The GOP's Big Battle With Diversity

In the 2012 presidential election, the party of Lincoln has a long way to go to woo black voters back into the fold. Is there, as Newt Gingrich claims, a difference between "inclusion" and "outreach"?

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As Crosby sees it, criticisms of the president that cross the line from the political to the personal, and questions about his birthplace (Donald Trump, anyone?), are just "distractions" that obscure the GOP philosophy. He prefers an approach that is more explanation than attack. His "biblical grounding" led to his political conversion, he told me, and on his smart phone he pulled up a few verses from 2 Thessalonians 3 to clarify:

" … nor did we eat anyone's bread without paying for it, but with labor and hardship we kept working night and day so that we would not be a burden to any of you; … "

The message and the verses went on, of course, to extol discipline and hard work along with performing charitable works for those who need it. "I don't want the government involved in what I do," Crosby said, and that includes his volunteer activities.

His conciliatory tone, however, might get some pushback from first-time delegate William Lindsey of Spartanburg. The 47-year-old electrician, who is white, told me that the anti-Obama rhetoric from the speakers resonated, and then he went further: "Obama is the only president that has welcomed Muslims in the White House and given them a hooting, hollering party," said Lindsey, a "passionate Christian" who also believes that Obama is himself Muslim. (In fact, Obama is a Christian, and as president, George W. Bush welcomed Muslim leaders to the White House for a Ramadan fast-breaking dinner, known as iftar -- facts lost in the narrative of the moment.)

But other white Republicans say that they do see the need for more inclusion and less-inflammatory dialogue. Back in February, I spoke with Sonny Googins at a Republican women's meeting in South Carolina. A retired state legislator from Connecticut who relocated to Beaufort County, Googins offered her own mixed feelings about the direction of the GOP.

She told me that while it was "refreshing" to be in a state with a Republican majority, she believed that opening up the party has to "become part of an effort of things we give a damn about." She also said, "There are no black people here, except you." And she wasn't happy about it.

Gingrich and Barbour Speak on Inclusion

On Saturday, the maybe candidates stuck to a stump-speech script during official remarks to the crowd but later, speaking to me, were more candid about the challenges that they and the party now face. Mississippi Gov. Barbour talked about outreach, though not without some reluctance. The governor has already had to explain missteps that praised the pro-segregationist Citizens Councils and seemed to downplay the racist climate in his Yazoo City, Miss., hometown when he was growing up. Will a man with a Southern accent from a state with its own Confederate-flag issue be the best standard bearer for inclusion?

"The message needs to be the same message," Barbour told me. "Effort needs to be made to spread that message to every corner, to every community, to people of all persuasions, not just ethnicity but religious, social, cultural, whatever. People, whether they're white or black, agree that the government can't spend itself rich."

Former House Speaker Gingrich, not that far away from his Georgia home base, looked pretty comfortable in South Carolina, which he has visited many times. He mentioned to me his belief that GOP members should "think about inclusion, not outreach."