In the wake of their 2012 election defeats, the Republican Party hasn't been willing to change much, but GOP officials have at least been willing to acknowledge their demographic problem. The party's core group of supporters is old, right-wing, and white, which isn't a recipe for success in a modern, increasingly diverse nation.
Whatever their other faults, Republican leaders realize the current trends are unsustainable for them, and at least rhetorically, seem eager to bring in new supporters. With that in mind, Reince Priebus traveled to Atlanta yesterday to do some outreach.
During a stop in Atlanta to talk with black voters Thursday, Priebus said the answer is more about framing than about substance.
"I think freedom and liberty is a fresh idea," he said after a closed-door session with about two dozen black business and civic leaders. "I think it's always a revolutionary idea. I don't think there's anything we need to fix as far as our principles and our policies." [...]
The priority, Priebus said, will be investing time in the African-American community. "I don't think you can show up a few months before the election," he said.
What's wrong with this? Nothing, really. I'm not convinced repackaging a stale and ineffective Republican agenda can be sold as "fresh," but I think it's entirely worthwhile for the RNC chairman to reach out to African Americans, listen to concerns from the community, and make a meaningful investment that doesn't start "a few months before the election."
In fact, it's worth noting that we've seen this before. In 2005, as part of a similar outreach effort, then-RNC Chairman Ken Mehlman gave a terrific speech at an NAACP convention, in which he conceded that the Republican Party made a conscious decision not to "reach out" to black voters, instead choosing to "benefit politically from racial polarization." Mehlman admitted that his party was "wrong."
Five years later, then-RNC Chairman Michael Steele conceded his party was wrong to pursue a deliberately racially-divisive "Southern Strategy" for four decades, but he hoped Republicans would start to put things right going forward.
And now Priebus wants to undo some of the damage, too. But in his case, there's a catch.
With one hand, the current chairman of the Republican National Committee is reaching out to the African-American community. With his other hand, Priebus is also working on new voting restrictions that disenfranchise -- you guessed it -- the African-American community.
Even if we put aside how detrimental the Republican policy agenda would be to minority communities, there's an important disconnect between what Priebus is asking for (the support of African-American voters) and what Priebus is doing (encouraging the most sweeping voting restrictions since Jim Crow).
I don't imagine the RNC chairman will be eager to talk about this during his so-called "listening tour," but I hope some of the folks he encounters ask him about the recent war on voting. Deliberately long voting lines? Unnecessary voter-ID laws? Bogus allegations of voter fraud? A scheme to rig the electoral college? Efforts to weaken the Voting Rights Act? All of these have two things in common: (1) they disproportionately and adversely affect the African-American community; and (2) they're all supported, encouraged, and celebrated by today's Republican Party.
Let's make this easy for Reince Priebus: can you explain the contradiction of asking for African-American votes while simultaneously endorsing measures to make it harder for African Americans to vote.