Ada Fisher, a longtime Republican Party leader from Salisbury, had some advice for Donald Trump when he visited North Carolina several years ago.
“I said ‘Mr. Trump, you ought to be president of the United States,’ ” she recalled.
On Tuesday, Fisher appeared on national TV to formally announce North Carolina’s 29 delegate votes for Trump at the Republican National Convention. She took the opportunity to speak briefly about the role of African-Americans in founding the state’s Republican Party.
As a black, Jewish woman, a single mother and a retired doctor, Fisher has tried for years to bring more diversity to the GOP. But the party still skews heavily white. Among the 300 delegates, alternates and guests from North Carolina who traveled to Cleveland for the convention, five or so are black. And media reports estimated that 18 of 2,472 GOP delegates are black.
Polls show that Trump is struggling to appeal to black voters. Just 4 percent of African-Americans in North Carolina polled recently by the conservative Civitas Institute said they’d pick Trump over Democrat Hillary Clinton.
Fisher, however, compares Trump to an obscure black Republican leader who raised concerns about immigration in 1868. She came across the words of Wilson Cary of Caswell County while compiling a history of African-American Republicans in North Carolina.
“What Wilson Cary said is we should not allow immigrants in this country because they were displacing black workers,” Fisher said. “Trump comes and says the same thing.”
Fisher – who serves as one of three state representatives to the Republican National Committee – backed Trump long before many of her fellow GOP leaders joined his campaign. She said she found his hard line on immigration and his business background appealing.
“He can come up with some innovative solutions to the issue of jobs,” she said. “We have to create things that can be made in this country and stay in this country ... and Trump understands that better than anybody.”
She also sees a little of herself in the billionaire’s brash speaking style. “He can be a little tactless at times, but I have been accused of the same thing, so I laugh at that,” said Fisher, who ran unsuccessfully for Congress several times. “He’s saying a lot of things people truly believe. We can probably put a little more polish on it, but it is what it is.”
Fisher says the lack of minority support for Trump simply shows a need for “better messaging.” She sometimes talks politics at black barber shops and hair salons.
“I sit down and listen to people, and they say ‘Fisher, we don’t like Republicans but we’ll let you in here,’ ” she said. “I say, ‘Tell me why you don’t like Republicans,’ and everything they say, I can refute.”
N.C. Republican Party Chairman Robin Hayes said Fisher has worked tirelessly for the party for decades. “She is a wonderful spokesperson and image to show how diverse the ideas and people in our party are,” Hayes said.
Fisher helped smooth tensions in the state party earlier this year when its first black chairman, Hasan Harnett, accused GOP officials of racism. Party leaders voted to remove Harnett from office and argued that the move had nothing to do with his race – that he couldn’t stay in the post because he violated party rules and failed to raise money.
Fisher rejected Harnett’s claim that the dispute related to his race, and she backed his ouster, saying she “would not knowingly tolerate racist actions on anyone’s part.”
One week after Harnett was voted out and replaced by Hayes, the state party’s main governing body re-elected Fisher for a third term as its RNC committeewoman. She defeated a Tea Party activist from Moore County by just six votes.
Fisher says she’s pushing to get more black Republicans in prominent roles. On Thursday at the convention, she said she told a congressman that 4th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Allyson Duncan from North Carolina should be considered for the U.S. Supreme Court.
“We’ve never had a black woman” on the Supreme Court, she said. “We have to put people in places that represent the folks we want to reach.”
Getting more diversity in state party leadership is another challenge. “People asked me about the lack of black folks here – I thought about the lack of the poor,” Fisher said. “Being a part of these organizations is not very cheap, because it takes $5,000 to be here” at the national convention.