Is TW Shannon the GOP’s Next Big Star?

At CPAC, the Oklahoma House speaker told us why they can't "become the party of old white men."

In a nutshell, that’s the three-legged stool of black conservatism — school choice, pro-life and anti-tax — but, so far, it’s not a platform that’s swayed many voters of color in recent elections.

Shannon offered some skepticism about the social safety net, saying that within “our disenfranchised, socioeconomically challenged minority groups” he can point to those “who will tell you that dependence on government doesn’t work. It doesn’t lead to prosperity, it doesn’t lead to empowerment — it leads to dependence on government,” and described his belief that “the Republican message about personal responsibility” and “strong families — those are the things that are going to impact minority communities and start to turn this thing around.”

But when asked whether he really thinks that anyone, Democrat or Republican, disagrees with the ideas of personal responsibility or strong families, he countered that “I’m not one of these guys that believes that every social program or every social initiative is wrong,” but at the same time says programs “that encourage people to work have a much better and greater outcome than those that simply offer them a subsidy or handout.”

On the potentially sore subject of Mitt Romney, Shannon said that “our big challenge nationally was, frankly, last time we didn’t have a candidate that really energized the conservative base.” Noting that while “Romney was a great, obviously, business guy,” he added, “I do think he had a hard time connecting with the average guy, period.”

On the subject of the president, when I suggested that Obama is as conservative as Gen. Colin Powell or former Sen. Edward Brooke (R-Mass.), who preceded Obama as the lone black man in the Senate, Shannon rejected the idea, pointing to the national debt and Obama’s “assault on religious liberty,” saying Sen. Obama was, at the time, “the most liberal member of the U.S. Senate,” and despite the doubling of the Dow, the elimination of Osama bin Laden and the 2010 extension of the Bush tax cuts, Shannon says Obama has “governed as just that — a liberal.”

Shannon wrote off Obama’s appeal as mostly based on “the fact that he was the first African American,” saying, “his election to office was something that a lot of people marveled at.”

Twice, apparently.

And as for the conservatives coming to CPAC, Shannon said his message will be that “we’re going to be reforming this country. It’s probably going to happen in the halls of state government, in the 50 states — not in Washington, D.C.”

Part Chickasaw, Shannon says his heritage is “a part of who I am,” but points out that “my goal as speaker of the House is to make policy for all of Oklahoma.” And though he says he’s always carried the black vote in his district, and he’s active in his predominantly black church, he pretty much summed up his outlook with a message tailor-made for the faithful who’ll be at CPAC:

“In Oklahoma, we’re conservative — I don’t care who you are.”

Whether Shannon improves GOP prospects with voters of color remains to be seen. But don’t be surprised to see him run statewide or on a national ticket. Sooner, perhaps, than you might think.

David Swerdlick is a contributing editor to The Root. Follow him on Twitter.