The Loneliness of the Black Republican

Illustration by Tony Millionaire

You were very critical of the Romney campaign’s minority-outreach efforts, or lack thereof. Why did it have such a blind spot when it came to black voters?
Romney and his team were the old white boys’ club, and the RNC was in cahoots with them. I know because the RNC had hired me as a consultant to put together a black-voter-outreach website that we had all but completed in June of 2012. It had video testimonials from Allen West, Tim Scott, Lieutenant Governor Jennifer Carroll from Florida, and just regular black conservatives saying, “Hey, here’s why I’m a Republican.” I thought we could make some inroads. We were going to use it as a tool to remind black Americans that they had a choice in this election, and it wasn’t just about Barack Obama’s skin color.

But that project was buried because Reince Priebus, the chairman of the RNC, through [communications director] Sean Spicer, said, “Well, we don’t have enough money to fund additional activities.” It’s funny the RNC now says they have $10 million for minority outreach. When we wanted maybe $20,000 to launch the website and put on a couple of events right before the election, the money wasn’t there. It was all of this double-talk. I’m disgusted on a lot of levels.

Why do you think they were so resistant to launching the site?
In various conversations that I’ve had over the years with Republicans, no matter where they come from, there’s this sense of defeat when it comes to the black vote. Why bother, they just have blind loyalty to Democrats. But I don’t think we’re going to be able to win elections by continuing to ignore blacks. Black turnout for the last election was at a record high. But the established Republican groups are not convinced by the numbers. They’re not convinced by last year’s election. They think the answer is amnesty, and when it comes to the black vote, they’re continuing to leave it on the table for Democrats to gorge on.

When Rand Paul spoke at Howard, he asked how the Party of Lincoln had lost the black vote. What do you think?
I think Barry Goldwater deciding not to vote for the Civil Rights Act was the beginning and the end. Martin Luther King died for the Civil Rights Act. You had people like my parents denied access to schools and beaches because they were black. You had lynchings that were still occurring. So, if you’re a black American during that time—and even now when I think about it—for Goldwater to say, “I’m a states’-rights guy; I just don’t think this is something the federal government should get involved with,” while people were being killed, it’s not just a slap in the face, it’s shooting somebody in the heart. Goldwater was telling blacks on behalf of the Republican Party, “We don’t care about you.”

And it seems like that message still resonates today.
It resonates today because Republicans haven’t bothered to correct the record. I don’t think that’s the record of the Republican Party today, but I think that’s the perception. So I think that we have to show up in black communities like Rand Paul did, and we need to talk about how Democratic policies are utterly failing black Americans. We have to remind ourselves of the history of the Civil War and Reconstruction. People are always telling me, “Crystal, you’re living in the past, the Republican Party today is not what it was then. Why do you want to be in a party that doesn’t want you?” And my response is, “Since when does anybody own the Republican Party?” I’m committed to conservatism because that’s where my beliefs align. And no one’s kicking me out of anything.

Do you feel like Reince Priebus has made any progress with his “listening” tour and the RNC’s new minority-outreach initiative?
What bothers me is that we have ­Reince Priebus saying he’s listened to people and put together a task force, and six months and 100 pages later, we have him hiring a few people who I think are nothing more than props to get people off his back. The RNC claims it’s going to put people in the community, but we’ll see. When I talk to blacks who are disgruntled with the Democratic Party and the president, they just laugh when I bring up the RNC doing outreach to black Americans.

You’ve started a PAC, Conservative Melting Pot, to do Republican minority outreach. Former Oklahoma congressman J. C. Watts has started his own outreach organization as well.
I think that the reason there is this proliferation of so-called diversity-focused pacs is that many black conservatives just don’t feel like the RNC’s going to get it done. But it goes beyond the RNC. We really have issues on a grassroots level, too. I was recently asked to speak at the College Republicans club at American University. There were very few women and virtually no minorities. My parting words were, “You know, guys, you can do better.” They all had on these little blue suits and were clones of the Establishment Republicans in D.C. What they don’t get is that they’re a dying breed.

Are you happy with the black Republican candidates that have risen through the ranks? Guys like Herman Cain and Alan Keyes are usually considered to be pretty marginal, but also standard-bearers for black conservatives.
I kind of equate black conservatives who decide to run with women running for office. White men don’t second-guess themselves about much in life. They run for office at the drop of a hat. They’re very “I’m gonna conquer the world” about it. Whereas women, regardless of color, often second-guess themselves.

I put the black Republican in that category, but probably even more so. Black Republicans are vilified and mocked relentlessly, often by other blacks. That’s a real deterrent. I know there are more candidates out there, but they’re certainly going to think twice when they see black conservative candidates out there get virtually no political support or cover from their colleagues when they get called these heinous names. Getting cover starts with growing the party on the state level so that everybody feels included. Black conservatives need to say, “Oh, okay, well, I have some cover here, because I’m not the only black person walking into the room.”

The Loneliness of the Black Republican