Hey, Republican Party. African-American voter here. I hear you’ve been looking for me, but you’re sending out such wildly mixed messages that I’m not sure if I should be flattered or furious.
Hat No. 2 fits me pretty snugly right now. Here’s why.
Your national standard-bearer, Donald Trump, is making an explicit appeal for my vote. He came to Charlotte last week and said the Democratic Party plays black voters for suckers while black neighborhoods rot.
“Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party have taken African-American votes totally for granted,” he said. “What do you have to lose by trying something new?”
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That’s a good, fair question. Too bad the guy asking it ranks as the most racially inflammatory presidential candidate since arch-segregationist George Wallace. Instead of making his black-voter sales pitch by talking to us, he’s doing it by talking about us to white audiences.
That tells me a hell of a lot more than the words on his Teleprompter do.
It might also help if he acknowledged the fact that most black people aren’t poor. Some 26 percent are, according to the University of Michigan’s National Poverty Center. And while that’s unacceptably high compared with white Americans’ poverty rate of 10 percent, that leaves a whopping 74 percent of black Americans above the poverty line.
You wouldn’t guess it listening to Trump bellowing away about black despair. Yes, the inner cities clearly need new ideas and more help. But Trump isn’t offering either. That’s because he’s not courting the black vote with this new sales pitch; he’s giving cover to embarrassed white supporters who are sick of answering for his racial provocations.
Speaking of which, you GOP elders might want to look in on Dallas Woodhouse, executive director of the N.C. Republican Party. Guy’s in no danger of winning an NAACP Image Award right now. He shamelessly urged Republicans sitting on county elections boards to limit early voting hours and keep polling sites closed on Sundays – clear efforts to pinch voting options favored by blacks.
No, no, you say. That’s about keeping Democrats from voting. We can’t help it if most black voters just happen to be Democrats.
Actually, you can. Blacks vote Democrat today because Democrats fought for their votes. The party that once welcomed cross-burning Klansmen did an about-face on civil rights and earned the black vote.
Are you fighting to get those votes back? Nope.
The path to do so is clear, if you’re interested. Embrace affirmative action – and let racist base voters walk. Pass criminal justice reform. Champion black entrepreneurship and the rebuilding of the inner cities. Reach out to churchgoing black families; their traditionalist social values mirror yours.
Even viewed through the lens of small-government conservatism, this agenda is do-able.
You’ll lose old voters. And you’ll gain new ones. Just as the Democrats did 50 years ago.
In a changing America, you’ll be in position to compete for real minority votes, instead of just complaining about imaginary fraudulent ones.
That fraud charge stinks. It’s built on the racist presumption that black voters can’t discern whose policies align most closely with their interests and worldview. It suggests that, even if they’re not literally fraudulent, black votes remain somehow illegitimate because they’re votes for free stuff, not for well-considered policies.
OK. Then why did black voters derail Bernie Sanders, the king of free stuff, in the primaries? Why’d they save Hillary Clinton?
Simple. She showed up when he didn’t. She out-worked him.
And he didn’t realize it until it was too late.
Concerned about black votes this November, GOP?
Quit whining. Stop provoking. Start competing.
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Eric Frazier is a columnist for the Charlotte Observer.