In November, after four years as the only black Republican woman serving in Congress, Utah Rep. Mia Love lost her reelection bid. As her time in the House comes to a close, Love has repeatedly stressed a message for her party: ignore voters of color at your own peril.
In an op-ed published in the Washington Post on Wednesday, Love argues that the Republican Party’s failure to attempt substantive outreach in communities of color has hurt the GOP and American politics in general.
“We have especially failed to bring our message to, and connect with, women and racial minorities. And we have effectively written off cities as Democratic strongholds,” she writes. “Our nation is poorer for it.”
Last month, Love gave a fiery concession speech criticizing President Donald Trump and calling for the Republican Party to improve its relationship with voters of color. And her op-ed comes less than a week after South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott — the only black Republican in the Senate — wrote a letter to the editor published in the Wall Street Journal that defended his decision to vote against Thomas Farr, a controversial judicial nominee Democrats accused of supporting the suppression and disenfranchisement of black voters.
In his letter, Scott urged the party to “stop bringing candidates with questionable track records on race” before the full Senate.
“While our nation has made significant progress over the past 50 years, there is no doubt we still have work left to do,” Scott wrote, responding to a recent WSJ editorial that aimed to deflect criticism of Farr by highlighting Democrats’ own record on race. “What this means, regardless of the obvious issues the Democratic Party has on race, is that the Republican Party must strive to do better.”
Love and Scott’s requests come as Republican politicians face criticism for their support of harsh immigration policies and restrictive voting laws among other issues. As my colleague Zack Beauchamp has noted, in the 2018 midterms, “Republicans did well with rural voters, white Southerner voters, and low-educated voters — while Democrats won among city-dwellers, minorities, and highly educated white suburbanites.” Love and Scott attribute these rifts to the Republican Party’s failure to engage with nonwhite voters.
The two politicians are arguing that the party must reverse course — and are making a renewed push for Republicans to respond to the issues affecting people of color. But the problem they identify is one that their party hasn’t seemed very interested in addressing.
Love wants the Republican Party to engage voters of color. It’s unlikely the party will listen.
The fact that the Republican Party has struggled to attract voters of color is not particularly new. The party famously released its “Growth and Opportunity Project” report in 2013, an autopsy of the 2012 election that called for Republicans to improve their outreach efforts to communities of color if it hoped to be viable in the future.
But then came the rise of Trump, whose first significant entry to national politics was questioning the citizenship of America’s first black president. In his presidential campaign, Trump criticized Mexican immigrants as “rapists” who brought crime into the country, chastised Black Lives Matter activists for protesting police violence, and called for banning Muslim immigration entirely.
Once in office, Trump continued many of these attacks, while launching new ones against NFL players kneeling to protest racial injustice. And he reportedly referred to several predominantly black and Latino countries as “shithole” countries, specifically criticizing Haiti, which has been heavily affected by US foreign policy decisions for generations.
Love, the daughter of Haitian immigrants, has repeatedly criticized the president on those remarks in particular. “I never understood why I had to fight so hard to make my perspective heard on immigration,” she writes in the Post. That struggle, she says, shows that Republicans “must invite, not just tolerate, diverse perspectives to the table and ensure that their voices matter.”
But it’s unclear where support for this idea would come from.
In the 2018 midterm elections, Republican candidates in some parts of the country openly campaigned on bigotry, running ads that amplified fears of minorities. Others dismissed concerns about voter suppression and how it limited the power of voters of color.
The latter in particular concerned Scott, who eventually voted down Farr’s — a recent nominee for a judgeship in the Eastern District of North Carolina — nomination over concerns about his involvement in an effort to suppress the black vote during the 1990 campaign of Jesse Helms, as well as his subsequent work defending aggressive voting restrictions in North Carolina.
Scott’s opposition was not well received by his party. “It appears that Senator Scott has allowed himself to be snookered,” Ethics and Public Policy Center president Ed Whelan wrote in the National Review last month. Other critics argued that Scott’s opposition would give more power to Democrats’ accusations that the GOP is racist.
It’s not just Love and Scott, of course — politicians of color on both sides of the aisle are challenging their parties to do better when it comes to engaging with people of color.
But with two of the three black Republicans in Congress raising the issue, this challenge may be particularly difficult for the GOP. The party has failed to consistently and substantially engage with voters of color and other minorities in the election cycles since publishing its Growth and Opportunity report and has embraced the white resentment that dominates the party’s rhetoric and influences its policy.
When writing about the parties shortly after the midterm elections, the Atlantic’s Adam Serwer noted that “only one side of this divide remotely resembles a coalition based on ethnic and religious lines, and only one side has committed itself to a political strategy that relies on stoking hatred and fear of the other.”
Even when it comes to its own politicians, the GOP has not always publicly backed their discussions of race, except to praise them for supposedly leaving the Democrat “plantation” — language that denies other black voters agency and control over their political decisions.
Despite Black Republicans’ pleas for their party to improve, the GOP has largely focused on winning above all else, a goal that has put the party at odds with supporting communities of color and other constituencies more likely to back Democrats.
That reality suggests that even with Love and Scott’s calls for the party to change, there is little indication that it will do so.