I had an extensive conversation last week with a prominent Republican political operative about next year’s congressional elections. This operative is one of the godfathers of Republican politics and has played at the highest level for more than 30 years.
He wanted to talk with me about the Black vote in light of President Obama being in the White House. He is not one of the Republicans who subscribes to the notion that the Black vote is not worth going after and he also thinks that current party chair, Reince Priebus, is leading the party in the right direction with his “Growth and Opportunity” initiatives.
This operative asked me how I would advise our congressional leaders and governors who are up for reelection next year. The first thing I would suggest they do is to sit with Priebus and his chief of staff, Mike Shields, to discuss how the “Growth and Opportunity” initiative can be replicated on a state and congressional district level. In the short term, this helps with their immediate reelection; in the long term, it begins to lay the groundwork for the 2016 presidential election. A two-for-one is pretty good in any business deal.
Our congressional leaders have little to no interaction with Black Republicans or the Black community. This is a very serious strategic mistake. Republicans have little appreciation for how disillusioned the Black community is with President Obama. Black physicians are apoplectic at how Obamacare is negatively impacting their medical practices; HBCUs are in open rebellion against the Obama administration’s policies that are devastating their student enrollment; Black entrepreneurs are being shut out of federal procurement opportunities and are having very difficult times with access to capital from the very banks his administration has bailed out.
These three issues – healthcare, education, and small business – play to the strengths of our party; so why we are not taking advantage of this huge opening Obama has given us is mind-blowing.
There are several national organizations within the Black community that focuses on these three issues and I have had discussions with each of their executive boards. They are very open; no very enthusiastic about the possibility of establishing long-term relations with the Republican Party if and only if the party is willing to address their concerns with policy solutions.
They each have their own ideal solutions, but are willing to enter into a dialogue to see if the Republican Party can find common ground with them that will lead to legislation that they can support. Many of these organizations have leaned left politically, so their willingness to engage in substantive dialogue with the Republican Party is a tectonic shift in the political landscape.
Priebus has shown a respectful understanding of that shift. He and his staff have been masterful in building relations with prominent Black organizations that have long been ignored by the Republican Party.
Priebus hosted a luncheon in August commemorating the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. In attendance were Marc Morial, President of the National Urban League; Hilary Shelton, head of the NAACP’s government relations office; and Wade Henderson, head of Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. Yes, you heard me right, they were Priebus’ personal guests for the event. Priebus also attended the NAACP’s national convention last summer and was warmly received by those wanted to take pictures and talk with him.
Priebus is also seeking to re-engage seasoned Black operatives such as the legendary Bob Brown and Kay James. These are people who understand policy and the optics of policy. Over the past several years, these veterans have been pushed aside for these millennials who have little to no appreciation for those who paved the way for them. Priebus understands that both must be engaged if the party is to make lasting inroads into the Black community.
So, Obama is driving away the Black community and the Democratic Party, but our congressional leaders have not given them a compelling reason to move to the Republican Party. If they come up with policy solutions that address the three above issues, Blacks are willing to listen and engage; but it has to be on a substantive level.
Priebus has given the blueprint; Christie has proven that it works. Congressional Republicans and Republican governors, can you hear me now?
Raynard Jackson is president & CEO of Raynard Jackson & Associates, LLC., a Washington, D.C.-based public relations/government affairs firm. He can be reached through his Web site, www.raynardjackson.com. You can also follow him on Twitter at raynard1223.