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Conservatives Proclaim Year of the Black Republican. Again.

October 5, 2010

This spring, the New York Times, the Washington Post, The Week and The Grio (among others) pointed to the new crop of African-American GOP candidates and pondered, "2010: The year of the black Republican?" And on Sunday, RealClearPolitics contributor Jack Kelly touted the candidacies of Tim Scott, Allen West and Ryan Frazier as proof of "the rise of the black Republicans." But if this sounds familiar, it should. After all, as losers Michael Steele, Ken Blackwell and Lynn Swann would all attest, we heard the same thing four years ago.
Two years after Barack Obama captured 96% of the African-American vote, Kelly protested that "One might think the resurgence of black Republicans, coming as it does at a time when a black Democrat is president, would rate more than a feature story or two in the national media," adding, "But that would conflict with the liberal meme that Republicans are racist." Kelly crowed:

Most of the 14 are running all-but-hopeless races against black Democratic incumbents in black majority districts. But Mr. Scott, running in South Carolina, is a virtual cinch to win. Mr. West (Florida) and Mr. Frazier (Colorado) are in races that are judged tossups.
If all three win, that would be a post-Reconstruction record. The largest number of black Republicans to serve together in the House in the last century is two, J.C. Watts (Oklahoma) and Gary Franks (Connecticut) between 1995 and 1997. There haven't been any since Mr. Watts retired in 2003.

Sadly, Kelly's cheerleading is tarnished by some fuzzy math. After, the 2010 GOP primaries already reduced the ranks of black Republican Congressional candidates from 32 to 14. And as former Gore campaign Donna Brazile noted in May:

"In 1994 and 2000, there were 24 black G.O.P. nominees. And you didn't see many of them win their elections."

And then there was 2006. While the Washington Post and USA Today were quick to proclaim those midterms the year of the black Republican, The American Conservative lamented the resultant GOP carnage that November and recalled.

In May, the Washington Post speculated that Steele, Blackwell, and Swann might make 2006 the "year of the black Republican." GOP operatives and conservative commentators picked up the phrase. "This could be the year that black voters finally send a strong, concerted message to Democrats," wrote conservative columnist Deborah Simmons in the Washington Times. "Stop taking the black vote for granted." Armstrong Williams claimed to USA Today columnist DeWayne Wickham that "[t]his is the year of the black conservative voice."

As it turned out, not so much.
Jack Kelly is nevertheless undeterred. He declared himself "most impressed with Mr. West, a retired Army lieutenant colonel who was a hero to his troops in Iraq." (West's other claim to fame is his comically false declaration that he has a higher security clearance than President Obama.) Besides, Kelly argued, Obama's approval rating among African-Americans is now "just 76 percent." And:

Of the 39 black Democrats in the House, all but two represent districts where blacks are a majority or plurality. One other black Democratic contender is running in a white majority district. So in this election, Republicans are running more blacks in white majority districts than the Democrats are. Shouldn't that be taken into consideration when accusations of racism are being hurled about?
Accusations of racism against Republicans are a staple of Democratic politics because Democrats need to keep blacks on the plantation to remain viable nationally.

Of course, a better explanation of the accusations of racism against Republicans is provided by Colbert's Law, which states that "reality has a well-known liberal bias."
As the New York Times noted, it own poll " found that 25 percent of self-identified Tea Party supporters think that the Obama administration favors blacks over whites, compared with 11 percent of the general public." In April, a University of Washington survey of Tea Party supporters found that:

Approximately 45 % whites either strongly or somewhat approve of the movement. Of those, only 35% believe blacks to be hardworking, only 45 % believe blacks are intelligent and only 41% think that blacks are trustworthy. Perceptions of Latinos aren't much different. While 50% of white tea party supporters believe Latinos to be hardworking, only 39% think them intelligent, and at 37%, fewer tea party supporters believe Latinos to be trustworthy.

Then there are the words and deeds of the mainstream Republican Party. Heading into the 2006 elections, the GOP pursued an aggressive campaign of new voter ID requirements, barriers to registration, unprecedented redistricting and election-day polling places challenges, all designed to suppress minority (that is, Democratic) turnout. Since, leading Republicans have attacked the Civil Rights Act, called for the repeal of the 14th Amendment, compared health care reform to the "war of Northern Aggression" and celebrated Confederate History Month without mentioning slavery. And when they do mention slavery, as Arizona Republican Trent Franks did, the result is more than a little shocking:

"Far more of the African-American community is being devastated by the policies of today than were being devastated by policies of slavery."

With the GOP's talk of states rights, nullification and secession, Americans black and white could be forgiven for assuming that the Republicans want to party like it's 1861.
Back in 2007, only one of 10 Republican presidential contenders even bothered to show up at an NAACP candidates forum in Detroit. But it was probably for the best. After all, in 2005 RNC chairman Ken Mehlman's outreach to black voters disastrously backfired when he confused victim and villain in the James Byrd case:

"The NAACP unfortunately in the 2000 campaign likened the president to James Byrd, who was a racist killer in east Texas, who the president brought to justice."

The next year, Mehlman boasted to Tavis Smiley on PBS:

"You may remember back in 1992 the number of women who were nominees for Senate, and they called it the year of the woman. The same thing is happening this year with African-Americans, and what I'm so pleased about is the majority of them are Republicans."

We all remember how well that turned out. Just ask Governor Ken Blackwell, Governor Lynn Swann or Senator Michael Steele.


Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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