Does GOP care about the black vote?

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I’ve noted in presidential campaigns present and past that most viable candidates are always looking to “enlarge their territory” by appearing before groups that may not be obvious constituencies.

To wit: Seven short years after referring to Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson and other evangelical leaders as “agents of intolerance,” John McCain was the commencement speaker at Falwell’s Liberty University this past spring.

This is referred to in political circles as expanding your base. Or mending fences.

To wit again: Rudy Giuliani, America’s mayor, who has not been known as a friend of the Second Amendment, recently addressed the national convention of the National Rifle Association. This speech came complete with an “unexpected” phone call from Mrs. America’s Mayor, whereupon Mr. Mayor asked if she wanted to “say hello” to the conventioneers. How endearing.

This too, is a base-expanding, fence-mending operation.

This leads me to observe the obvious oversight (diplomatically speaking) of many of the Republican candidates for president this year.

I’ve heard an adage over the years that applies in this case: “If you are to be an alternative, you have to be where the alternative is needed.”

For longer than I’ve been involved in the political process, the Republican establishment has claimed to want to provide an alternative for the black community, yet party elite refuse to show up for the game.

The more I ponder some of the boneheaded decisions GOP candidates have made of late, I can’t bring myself to believe that they are serious about capturing more than about 8 percent of the black vote.

I have often said one of the reasons more blacks don’t support Republicans is because they don’t trust the GOP establishment. I can, without fear of contradiction, assure you the Conventional Wisdom Caucus and the Status Quo Caucus and the same-old-tired-establishment consultants are running the GOP front-runners’ campaigns — and aiming to get no more than 1/12th of the black vote.

As evidence, I point to Colorado Rep. Tom Tancredo, who was the only Republican presidential candidate to speak at the Urban League convention in July, and the fact that none of the Big Four GOP candidates showed up at Morgan State University (a historically black college) for a candidate forum hosted by National Public Radio commentator Tavis Smiley. Hmmm.

I’m perplexed by these actions because candidates say one thing about inclusion and outreach but they do another. How can you do outreach and not reach out? Not showing up for these events was a grievous and inexplicable error. I certainly don’t consider inclusion to be baking a cake, then having me watch as everyone else eats it, as today’s consultants would seemingly have us believe.

Inclusion is asking me to help in making the cake, and sharing in its tasty delight. This is the message the presidential candidates send when they show up at these forums.

Once in the general election, and safely out of the cloistered world of Republican primary politics, our nominee will want to trot out black faces — usually black Republicans — to try to win the black vote. This is insulting when you consider he likely didn’t show up at events that were established to reach out to the black community. Trust me, these candidates will pay a price in the general election.

Republican candidates avoiding the Urban League and the Morgan State debate is as nonsensical as saying “I want a bath, but I don’t want to get wet.”

The excuse du jour — “I had a scheduling conflict” — is the campaign equivalent of “my dog ate my homework.” All of us, in campaigns and life, make time for things that are important to us. It’s a matter of priorities. One can only conclude that growing the base of our party isn’t a priority to the GOP establishment. Not only that, but when national candidates make a decision to avoid these events, they put every loyal Republican activist at the state, county and even precinct level on the defensive.

The bottom line is, you can spin it, but you can’t defend it.

One of my Republican friends asked me if I thought the candidates skipped these events because of the black audiences they would face. I can’t presume to read their hearts and minds, but I do have to admit that it did cross my mind.

J.C. Watts ( is chairman of J.C. Watts Companies, a business consulting group. He is former chairman of the Republican Conference of the U.S. House, where he served as an Oklahoma representative from 1995 to 2002. He writes twice monthly for the Review-Journal.

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