Today, 12 p.m.: Join the washingtonpost.com Live Online discussion on MICHAEL STEELE AND THE GOP’s FUTURE with The Root‘s deputy editor Terence Samuel.
I’ve been a Republican for a long time, more than two decades, and I have always been concerned about the poor relationship between the GOP and black voters. But I must admit that I had no idea things had gotten so bad for the Grand Old Party in terms of dwindling black participation.
Last Thursday at the Republican National Committee winter meeting in Washington, I could count on one hand the number of blacks present. The representation among black women in the room was even more dismal.
On Friday, that number increased modestly, to about 20, as it became apparent that Michael Steele would be elected RNC chairman, making him the first African American to head the party.
This turn of events confirmed a concern I’ve had since I joined the party back in 1988—that if the GOP leadership kept ignoring the northeast and mid-Atlantic states, and kept writing off the black vote, that eventually we would become a largely white, Southern, regional party.
Clearly, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell agrees with me. In a speech to the faithful on Thursday, he said, “We’re all concerned about the fact that the very wealthy and the very poor, the most and least educated, and a majority of minority voters seem to have more or less stopped paying attention to us.” He continued: “And we should be concerned that, as a result of all this, the Republican Party seems to be slipping into a position of being more of a regional party than a national one. In politics there’s a name for a regional party, it’s called a minority party.”
Granted, it has been years since I’ve been engaged in the inner workings of the Republican Party, but I had no idea that the number of black party faithfuls had dwindled to such a dismal number. What I witnessed last week was far worse than election night 1992, when George H. W. Bush lost the election to Bill Clinton. I’ll never forget that night. I was 24, and I remember standing alone, thinking, “Where are the black and brown people?” Standing there, I hoped that someday in the future, due in part to my efforts, the party of Lincoln would once again become a more diverse and open organization.
I was wrong. Steele is the party chairman, but the party he inherits has not made any progress in terms of its black membership; to witness the level of regression is surreal. What struck me is that I did not see any of the black Republicans with whom I came of age with back in the late ’80s and ’90s. They were not there to celebrate Steele’s historic win.