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Opinion: Why the GOP Lost Black Voters

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Former Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele listens during a session of the RNC Winter Meeting in 2011.

Only four days left until the South Carolina Republican presidential primary. As we head into what everyone seems to agree will be the defining contest for the GOP, I find myself wondering whether African Americans have a reason to vote Republican.

After all, the Grand Old Party is linked, historically, to black folk. The party was co-founded by blacks, among them Frederick Douglass. The Republican Party had a hand in forming the NAACP. Yet many African Americans feel the GOP has abused that relationship. One has only to look to the last of GOP debate, held disrespectfully on our national holiday to honor Martin Luther King, Jr.

Consider also the views espoused in the run-up to that debate.

Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich has been calling President Obama “the food stamp president” for weeks; after finishing fourth in Iowa, however he decided to take it up a notch last Thursday, in New Hampshire:

"I’m prepared, if the N.A.A.C.P. invites me, I’ll go to their convention and talk about why the African-American community should demand paychecks and not be satisfied with food stamps."

Then, last Sunday, former Senator Rick Santorum expressed what sounded to most African Americans like something along the lines of: "I don’t want to make black people’s lives better by giving them somebody else’s money. I want to give them the opportunity to go out and earn the money."

Of course, both men should have known better, and have since backpedaled, trying to amend their statements to suggest they are advocating for African-Americans, rather than disparaging us. But given the overall record of the GOP, the mea culpa is difficult to swallow.


And who can forget Rick Perry's racist rock?  Certainly not black and brown folks for whom that word remains a deal breaker."

And who can forget Rick Perry's racist rock?  Certainly not black and brown folks for whom that word remains a deal breaker."


Also still in the GOP mix: Ron Paul, whose famously controversial newsletter said of the 1992 Los Angeles unrest: “Order was only restored in L.A. when it came time for the blacks to pick up their welfare checks three days after rioting began.”

And Herman Cain wonders why “African-Americans have been brainwashed into not being open-minded, not even considering a conservative point of view.”

It is simply wrongheaded to say that “[I]t's just brainwashing and people not being open-minded, pure and simple.”

Since the 1960s, the GOP's strategy of appealing to white, male voters in the South has alienated black and other minority voters, and it ultimately proved ineffective when Bill Clinton ran for president in 1992.

Democrats have successfully highlighted the GOP's lack of diversity and recently and rightly criticized Republicans for not having many strong black (not to mention female) candidates for this year's midterm elections.

As the former Chairman of the Republican National Committee and the first African American to serve in the post, Michael Steele said, “Black folks haven’t left the Republican Party; the Party left us, a long time ago.”