Priebus surely already knows this, but until the GOP can get away from that footing—blanket opposition to, and disprespect for, Obama—they won’t get much traction from voters of color.
What he does seem to have is a greater sense of urgency. When he sat down with black journalists before the event, he followed up an old talking point—that the GOP has to “figure out how to grow our party”—with a new pledge to “fight for the African-American vote” and said—in sales terms—that if they don’t “ask for the order,” Republicans can’t expect to “make the sale.”
The issue, then, is what the GOP is selling. Priebus stuck up for Republican-backed voting restrictions, and cited Georgia’s laws as a positive example, even though they’re readying in that state to cut back on early voting. He took the high road when asked about the Affordable Care Act, saying that although it “has been a disaster in its rollout,” he and other Republicans “understand the concept” of greater access and affordability in health care coverage.
But that’s their dilemma. Obamacare is, in essence, an expanded version of Romneycare—the Massachusetts coverage program that Republicans favored when it was Romney’s plan, and then turned against after it was adopted by Obama.
That’s baked into the political cake at this point, and it’s a sticking point for the GOP with black voters, who favor the ACA and still give Obama an 84 percent approval rating.
Texas Commissioner of Education Michael Williams, who keynoted the event, sounded a familiar theme when he said that “the first step is showing up” if the GOP really wants to win African-American votes. But when he was asked where Republicans stand now in terms of reaching the black electorate, as opposed to a few years ago, he candidly assessed that they were “probably in the same spot.”
They’re clear, now, about the need to compete for black votes.
But they’re still a ways off from making the sale.
David Swerdlick is an associate editor at The Root. Follow him on Twitter.