Their Own Worst Enemies? The GOP’s Black Conservative Problem

For every measured, nuanced black surrogate the Republican Party deploys, there are much louder, more offensive and divisive voices burning up the airwaves and insulting the black electorate.

Conservative pundit Crystal Wright discusses the “slavish” devotion black voters have to the Democratic Party, language that is a turnoff for many black voters, on Fox News Feb. 1, 2016.
Conservative pundit Crystal Wright discusses the “slavish” devotion black voters have to the Democratic Party, language that is a turnoff for many black voters, on Fox News Feb. 1, 2016. Raw Story via YouTube screenshot

After receiving less than 7 percent of the black vote in the last two presidential elections, the Republican Party had a quandary. It could win in midterms. It could win locally. But nationally, there was a problem: The GOP couldn’t win the presidency without more votes from people of color. And it couldn’t win with such a paltry percentage of the black vote.

Inroads had to be made.

A black outreach campaign in Ohio here. Some black Republican Leadership Initiative fellows there. And of course, there are the many black Republicans—the most logical ambassadors—out trying to make inroads with the black vote, like Sen. Tim Scott in South Carolina.

But not every black conservative is taking a nuanced approach. In fact, those with the loudest voices seem to be intent on insulting their way into the black electorate.

Crystal Wright, the self-proclaimed Conservative Black Chick, recently made an appearance on Fox News that demonstrated why black conservatives are often the GOP’s worst enemy when it comes to reaching black voters. In less than four minutes she claimed that black people have shown a “slavish support” for Democrats for over 50 years, like being “political dummies.”

Said Wright, “Part of me wonders if the Republican Party should even bother asking for the black vote because black Americans seem to like being political dummies. … We’re the only race that has voted lock, stock and barrel for the same party for over 50 years. So it’s really on lockdown. … It’s a sad state of affairs for blacks when all they have to do is pander and insult … black Americans decade in and decade out. And we keep coming back for more misery. It’s like we’ve given up on ourselves economically by voting for Democrats.”

Her rhetoric was divisive but not at all uncommon.

Many black conservatives, both pundits and politicians, follow a similar script. Individuals like Rep. Mia Love of Utah, former Florida Rep. Allen West and presidential candidate Ben Carson often condescend to African Americans by self-servingly deploying the language of slavery and suggesting that black people are not intelligent enough to vote their interests. They blame the Democratic Party, liberal policies and black civil rights leaders for the social conditions in poor black neighborhoods and frequently accuse the Revs. Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson and other “race hustlers” for focusing too much on race.

Given the penchant for insult and condescension by the party’s most extreme spokesmen, no one expects black conservatives to persuade a significant part of the black electorate to vote Republican. That said, the tactics of people like Wright also undermine black conservatives’ efforts to yield any influence within the black community. Black politics, at least in the public sphere, are dominated philosophically by liberal ideas about government and its role in delivering racial justice, and reinforced structurally through overwhelming support for the Democratic Party. What lies beneath is a different story.

The black community’s politics are complex and nuanced. African Americans are more likely than whites and Hispanics to say that blacks experience unfair treatment in American institutions like law enforcement, the court system and public schools and at work. On the other hand, only 30 percent of African Americans see discrimination as the main reason (pdf) many blacks can’t get ahead, while 53 percent see blacks as being responsible for their own condition. African Americans are also more likely than whites (65 percent to 57 percent) to believe that children need a father and mother in the home (pdf) to grow up happily. Contrary to popular perception, black conservatism has a long history on the spectrum of black political thought.