Dec 17, 2018, 4:04 AM ET

Black conservatives to GOP: Reach out to black voters

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As a candidate in 2016, Donald Trump said Republicans must do better and would do better to reach members of the African-American community.

In another 2016 campaign speech, Trump boldly pledged to win 95 percent of black voters by 2020, declaring he wanted the GOP “to be the home of the African-American voter.”

PHOTO: Donald Trump addresses the Detroit Economic Club at Cobo Center in Detroit, Michigan, Aug. 8, 2016.Emily Molli/Getty Images, FILE
Donald Trump addresses the Detroit Economic Club at Cobo Center in Detroit, Michigan, Aug. 8, 2016.

However, more than two years later, 20 longtime conservative African-Americans who were extensively involved in the GOP before 2016, aren’t certain the Republican party has made necessary changes to sway black voters. Increasingly in the era of Trump, not all conservatives consider themselves Republicans despite voting with the party.

“With respect to the GOP engaging blacks, it’s where it’s always been, it can always be better,” said Cherylyn Harley LeBon, a former Republican National Committee spokesperson who has advised numerous top campaigns. In order for things to change, she said Republicans have to make black outreach a priority.

In Florida, Latanya Peterson, led a successful effort as the minorities coalition coordinator for the Ron DeSantis gubernatorial campaign. DeSantis, a white Republican with close ties to Trump, ran against the Democratic nominee Andrew Gillum, an African-American.

According to a CNN exit poll, DeSantis won 14 percent of black voters in the general election. Nearly double Trump’s 2016 showing.

Peterson and other Florida conservatives noted DeSantis’s victory was based on work over several years to bring together coalitions of minority voters. Nationally, Peterson said outreach on the local level isn’t the focus of leadership.

In a statement to ABC News, Kamilah Prince, the RNC’s director of African-American engagement said that the committee is connecting with African-Americans through “information sessions, roundtables, town halls and workshops.” Giving the party “the opportunity to have real conversations, build relationships, and discuss policies from the Trump Administration that directly benefit African Americans” such as record low unemployment, criminal justice reform or support for historically black colleges and universities.

In 2012, the RNC commissioned an “autopsy” report after former presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s 2012 loss to former President Barack Obama. It urged the party to recruit minority candidates. The RNC then pledged to spend $10 million on minority communities.

Telly Lovelace joined the RNC in 2016 as the director of black initiatives, and he said he was the only full-time African-American staffer outside of human resources and security. He said RNC chair Reince Prebius could have done better but did do more than current RNC chair Ronna Romney McDaniel.

The RNC does “a little bit here and a little bit there but when they do it, it’s to check a box,” Lovelace said about outreach efforts.

He also noted since his departure the committee doesn’t have an African-American spokesperson.

Mississippi Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith's missteps at the end of her campaign didn't help. The white Republican who ran against former Rep. Mike Espy, an African-American Democrat, embraced a supporter after he praised her and said before a cheering crowd, "If he invited me to a public hanging, I'd be on the front row." Mississippi had the highest number of recorded lynchings in the U.S.

Shermichael Singleton, a veteran of three presidential campaigns, called Trump’s decision to campaign for Hyde-Smith a “categorical mistake.” After Democrats secured the House, Singleton and others noted the importance of the GOP keeping the Senate, but would have preferred Trump not campaign for Hyde-Smith even if it cost Republicans the Senate seat.

“It has nothing to do about her views -- he can care less about her view,” said media mogul and conservative commentator Armstrong Williams.

Then, as ballots were still being counted, the president held a post-election press conference and said, “Mia Love gave me no love. And she lost. Too bad. Sorry about that, Mia.”

Days later the first African-American Republican woman who was elected to Congress conceded defeat in a midterm decided by less than 1,000 votes.

“I felt sad that the president would publicly say these things about her,” said Williams said, echoing the sentiment of many black conservatives.

PHOTO: Republican Rep. Mia Love greets supporters during an election night party, in Lehi, Utah, Nov. 6, 2018.Rick Bowmer/AP, FILE
Republican Rep. Mia Love greets supporters during an election night party, in Lehi, Utah, Nov. 6, 2018.

During an interview on "The View," Love said she was surprised by the remarks. She said Trump’s remarks noted the GOP’s issues with minority outreach. People of color “need to feel like [outreach is] more than just transactional. They need to feel like there’s a relationship there.”

“The Republican Party traditionally has underestimated the black conservatives and African-American vote” said Alveda King, director of civil rights for the unborn for Priests for Life. “The thought [is] maybe, well, they aren't going to vote for us anyway, so let’s not waste any money on that.”

King says Trump’s outreach to African-Americans was different, noting he spoke directly to black voters in churches, community events and at campaign rallies.

With Obama not on the ballot in 2016, “the Republican Party should have been primed for a rebound” among black voters, said Leah Wright Rigueur, an assistant professor at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. However, she said 2016 represented a conundrum for the GOP trying to appear inclusive as a "big tent" party.

In 2009, former RNC chairman Michael Steele worked to expanding the party's reach into communities of color as the first African-American to hold the position in the committee. Under his leadership, Republicans won 62 House seats, regained the House, saw the election of then-Rep. Tim Scott, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval.

In 2011, Steele lost re-election to Priebus, and reflected on the lack of progress on diversity asking “since then what has happened?”

PHOTO: Embattled Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele addresses a meeting of state party chairmen May 20, 2009 in Baltimore, Md.Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images, FILE
Embattled Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele addresses a meeting of state party chairmen May 20, 2009 in Baltimore, Md.

It’s too early to tell if Trump will win 95 percent of black voters in 2020. Many conservatives say it’s unlikely he'll face a primary challenger, but didn't rule out the possibility from moderate Republicans such as Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, Sen. Jeff Flake or Sen.-elect Mitt Romney.

Trump, the only Republican who has filed for 2020, welcomed potential primary challenges from Flake or Kasich on Fox News last week.

On Sunday, Kasich's political action committee "Kasich for America" sent a fundraising email in response to Trump's interview on Fox News. The email stopped short of announcing a 2020 bid, but wrote, "Be careful what you wish for!"

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  • ted

    Conservatives have been reaching out to blacks a lot....with a gun in their hand!

  • Gary Stanley

    The GOP's idea of reaching out to black voters is to make it hard or impossible for them to vote.

  • Lilywhiteazz

    Michael Steele and Mia Love? What Black Conservatives? Mia Love is a creature of the Romneys. Where the quotes where she was slamming the President?

  • kritikosman

    That's like the cow with the 'Eat Mor Chikin' sign.

  • Donnie The Lion

    "They need to feel like there’s a relationship there." There is no relationship there. Put some microphones in some meeting rooms of White Republicans and listen in. The idea that the GOP cares about African-Americans is pure folly.

  • Abby1

    Trump's base and the GOP need someone to vilify. Even though Mia Love is a Republican, she is also one of the people that they vilify.

  • anastasiabeaverhousen

    Symbolically "reaching out" to Black voters when your actions reveal your indifference or outright hostility to their interests (be it in the realm of socio-economics or by shutting down investigations into inequities in law enforcement and the justice system or by attacking affirmative action or by targeting Black voters for suppression or by pandering to racists) isn't going to cut it.

  • jboh

    GOP is reaching out to Black voters. They killed the Voter's Rights law, gerrymandered districts to dilute the Black vote, closed voting locations in Black areas, and constantly call Blacks low IQ, freeloaders, and criminals. Clever way to get folks to vote for you.

  • Bud Simpson

    The GOP has an extensive outreach program for African-American's, they've hired Russia to handle it.

  • Erwin Schrodinger

    But if the GOP actually attracts black voters, would this not make their current approach of simply suppressing black votes less effective?

  • ArghONaut

    Based on the evidence at hand, black conservatives who think the modern republicans give a toss about them, except for their vote, must be the dullest people in the hemisphere. The mainstream republicans choke while trying to go through the motions of caring about anyone who is not from a WASP background with a bit of money.

  • Red Hawk

    The Republican Party abandoned Blacks in 1876 to get Hayes elected over Tilden

  • oliwayne

    Ms. Love needs to understand that every black person isn't trying to live the lifestyle of the rich and famous. Most black people, I know, just want to live in peace. But, to place financial motivation as a reason to revert to republican ideals is to deny that social injustices exist. Most black people I know, have pulled themselves up and are trying to exist just like everyone else. I don't know Ms. Love, but I imagine she's not comfortable being around black people. She is a true republican.

  • Brick

    How you gonna reach out to black voters when EVERY PATHETIC PICTURE you see of Republicans is nothing but a SEA OF WHITE MALES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Just look at the elected officials (not a SINGLE MINIORITY, NOT ONE)!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Your very base demands that you hate on minorities!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! It is the single largest motivation for the right.

  • TerminalSanity

    Is there anyone sadder and more self-loathing than a republican at this point?

  • Colinalcarz

    Ms. Love wants minorities to be more self reliant, lift themselves up, and share in the financial success that her party claims to bring. Which policies of the last 60 years, from Republicans, have done any of that?

  • Ronald Bandor

    Why would they reach out to black voters?! This idea ignores the fact that vilifying blacks is exactly how they appeal to much of their base.

  • John Bishop

    Hard to do when the GOP has become a haven for NeoNazi White Nationalist KKK members like Steve King.

  • thinkmore

    ALL conservatives who support the GOP are ignoring the facts! The GOP has forfeited nearly all its claims to conservative goals.

  • Bannedlabrat

    Sean's not going to be happy about this.

  • snakeice64

    The issue with the GOP is that their rhetoric and policies have been blatantly racist for decades now and all their vocal supporters like Limbaugh the same. Then couple that with they take the blame for nothing and that's an issue in reaching out to the black community in the US. The democrats have their issues as well just pandering and expecting our support so it would take little effort for the republicans to change but the back log of bad will by the GOP would be hard to overcome.

  • Full Name

    The thing is, African-Americans are still only about 13% of the US population. I assume they are an even smaller portion of actual voters.

  • tj

    For the life of me I'm not sure I'll ever wrap my head around blacks, or anyone else for that matter, wanting to 'belong' to a group of historically racist, bigoted, small-minded whites. It's a crazy mixed up world we've built, for better or worse.

  • Prophet With Honor

    One of the most prominent black Republicans, conservative former Congressman J.C. Watts, has rejected the direction taken by Trump and the Party leadership. He can't see their course helping the minority community.

  • Sarah Levine

    "The opportunity to have real conversations, build relationships, and discuss policies from the Trump Administration that directly benefit African Americans"

    Yeah, that will play well with Trump's white nationalists followers.

  • IanPG

    Yeah, that’s not going to happen. Trump threw away the GOP autopsy report. The GOP are now left with Trump’s white get-out-the-angry-vote strategy.

  • stamped human bacon

    Some black folks fought for the Confederacy so I suppose this continued support for the GOP should come as no surprise.

  • John Michael Davis

    What a joke. If you look at Mr. Trumps White House, you will see very very few people of color, look at the staffs of Republicans, a lot of white faces. We've all seen pics of the interns, so so white. Republicans have had their chance to include/reach out to people of color, but they just aren't doing it. Actions speak louder than words.

  • Prophet With Honor

    I know some black conservatives. They believe in balanced budgets, low taxes, strong defense, sanctity of life, strong families, Christian theology, and patriotism.
    They also believe in individual rights and free will. They are not part of a herd nor do they want others to be herd animals. They judge people and institutions by their actions and not by their labels, by deeds not promises.
    They are true old school conservatives. They have no Party.

  • ppiuq

    The Republican party is about as interested in wooing black voters as Donald Trump is being president of the United States of America. It's time for Mia to move beyond the self-hate and selfishness which dominates her character and work her way back into reality. Leave stupid to the thieves and traitors who run the GOP.

  • TBC

    I'm a conservative, so this is of interest.

    The GOP COULD make an effort to appeal to minority voters, but they have to take a good, hard look in the mirror and determine what they want to be. If they want to be a party representative of all Americans, and not just a certain subset, a great first step would be to jettison racists like Cindy Hyde-Smith and Steve King, and make clear to them that they have no place in the GOP, let alone in modern American politics.

    Another good step would be to disavow Trump - not even just for his myriad faults and corruptions, although that's a good reason on its own - but because a man that actively sneers at minority conservatives and praises Nazis as "very fine people" does not promote a good image.

    The real question is, will this happen? I'd like to believe it will, but...

  • ROBOTIX JONES

    Going to be hard to bring black voters on board with a president saying the Charlottesville white supremacist marchers have "very fine people" among them.

  • JuPMod

    Gee, the Republicans had their chance to woo the African-American voters since 2012, yet they blew it when it is clear they do not care less for African-Americans anyway. Trump is not doing himself or the party any favors by dissing those candidates who lost, like Love from Utah.

  • Realpshep

    If you’re a Black Republican politician it’s up to YOU to woo and show us why we should vote for you. It’s a given fact the majority don’t care about our overall well being