After Barack Obama's victory, The GOP appointed African American Michael Steele as chairman of the Republican National Committee with the explicit purpose of trying to reach out to minorities. The party got more than it bargained for. Shortly after assuming his position, Michael Steele told the Washington Times that the party needed a "hip hop" make over:
"'There was underlying concerns we had become too regionalized and the party needed to reach beyond our comfort' zones, he said, citing defeats in such states as Virginia and North Carolina. 'We need messengers to really capture that region - young, Hispanic, black, a cross section…We want to convey that the modern-day GOP looks like the conservative party that stands on principles. But we want to apply them to urban-surburban hip-hop settings.'"
Steele went on to say that the Party's new image "will be avant garde, technically. It will come to table with things that will surprise everyone—off the hook." [Steele: GOP needs 'hip-hop' makeover, by Ralph Hallow, Washington Times, February 19, 2009]
The RNC's website, GOP.com displays this new attitude. I recently documented on TakiMag just how awful it is. Among the gems there: creating a new profile on GOP heroes—filled with of no-name black Reconstruction politicians; and a blog by Steele originally called "What Up" (but apparently this title became too embarrassing, and it was replaced with the less jiggy "change the game".)
"You saw in Christie and you saw in McDonnell a door open [to the black community] because they went in and engaged. McDonnell was very deliberate about spending. I mean, [Black Entertainment Television founder] Sheila Johnson was on his team. I mean, that was a big deal. That's because he engaged her and she helped navigate him through that relationship."[Transcript, Video]
Steele could have mentioned that New Jersey is also home to the self described (white) "Republican Rapper" Hi-Caliber, who busted rhymes like "I can't take this, these libs are phony/ And I got a bone to pick with Jon Bon Jovi/ He won't do a show for the troops during War Time, but he'll a do a show for that bum John Corzine" during the campaign.
So how much did winning gubernatorial candidates Bob McDonnell (VA) and Christie (NJ) victories depend on their newly opened door to the black vote?
Both Bob McDonnell and Chris Christie received a trivial 9% of the black vote. In 2008, John McCain received an only slightly more trivial 8% in both Virginia and New Jersey.
It's a fair assumption that this one percentage point increase among the black voters was the result of the fact that they did not have an African American Democrat to vote for—rather than the fact that Michael Steele is the chairman of the RNC, that the founder of BET supported the Republicans, or that they found out that Pickney Pinchback was a Republican on GOP.com.
Far more important were the Republican gains among white voters. Bob McDonnell received 67% of the White vote to John McCain's 60% and 2008 Virginia Republican Senator Jim Gilmore's atrocious 43%. On top of that, the white share of the vote in Virginia increased from 70% in 2008 to 78% in 2009.
In New Jersey, Christie received 59% of the White vote, compared to McCain's 50%.
On a side note, New Jersey Hispanics—just 12% of the voters in 2009—gave Christie 33% of their vote, compared to 21% for McCain. This is entirely typical of the Hispanic vote fluctuating in parallel to the white vote, but further to the left. I actually am pleasantly surprised that no one (to my knowledge) is trying to attribute his success to the oh-so-vital Hispanic swing vote. [For readers who want to do their own calculations, here are the exit poll links: NJ 2009 , VA 2009, NJ 2008, VA 2008 President , VA 2008 Senate.]
Even though Republicans chose Steele to be their chairman, he continues to assert that Republicans are not welcoming to blacks. His comments about Christie and McDonnell's successful pandering were prefaced by his agreeing with the outlandish assertion by Washington Watch's Martin that white Republicans are afraid of blacks.
"You're absolutely right. I mean I've been in the room and they've been scared of me and I'm like, 'I'm on your side,' so I can imagine going out there talking to someone like you." [Steele: White Republicans are scared of me, Jordan Fabian, The Hill, November 9, 2009]
In the interest of racial justice, I should add whenever Barack Obama pushes some anti-white policy, I ask myself: "Would President Hillary Clinton or John Edwards do the same thing?" In most cases, they would.
But while Mehlman and Gillespie went to destructive lengths in groveling to Hispanics and apologizing for the Southern Strategy, I can't imagine them making such buffoons of themselves as to try to make a Hip Hop makeover of the party or systematically alienating its white base.
In fact, even Barack Obama is wise enough not to make a comment about White Republicans being afraid of him when he walks into a room.
And at least the Democrats are getting votes from the minorities they pander to.
The GOP successfully took back the governorships in New Jersey and Virginia with the Sailer Strategy—but not because they knew what they were doing. If anything, the success of the Republican candidates in the November 3 election was in spite of the national GOP. Certainly NY-23's Doug Hoffman would have had a much better chance of winning had the GOP Establishment not initially backed, and given over a million dollars to, Dede Scozzafava—who went on to endorse the Democratic candidate.
But unless the GOP gets rid of hacks like Steele, it doesn't deserve them.
Ellison Lodge (email him) works on Capitol Hill.