Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

GOP's problem wooing African-American voters

By Carol Costello
updated 4:57 PM EDT, Wed May 28, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Carol Costello says it's not a secret that the GOP lacks strong African-American support
  • She says the party acknowledges that it needs to do better
  • Incidents like Cliven Bundy's racist remarks set back the GOP effort, she says
  • Costello: It's appropriate to ask party officials to show what steps they are taking

Editor's note: Carol Costello anchors the 9 to 11 a.m. ET edition of CNN's "Newsroom" each weekday. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN) -- Let's get real.

The Republicans have a problem attracting African-American voters.

And Cliven Bundy made it worse.

Period.

Carol Costello
Carol Costello

Not just because Bundy turned out to express racist views, but because of what he initially, falsely symbolized for some conservative Republicans: a humble, hard-working rancher who despises federal government overreach.

The fact that armed militia turned up to protect Bundy's cattle only made it worse, because it fit ever more neatly into the kind of extremist narrative that frightens many people, including many African-Americans.

They don't feel comfortable when conservatives, like Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, call the nation's first black President "the most lawless President in the nation's history."

And they especially don't care for the kind of inflammatory rhetoric that kind of characterization invites. Example: "These are dangerous times because this is a lawless presidency and a pliant Congress. The President's willingness to violate the Constitution publicly calls into question his fitness for office. And that deafening silence from Capitol Hill manifests a spineless refusal to preserve constitutional government."

That was written by Andrew Napolitano, who works for Fox News. The same Fox News that repeatedly validated Bundy and the armed men who chased the feds from government-owned land. The Republican National Committee loves to blame the "mainstream media" for its woes, but if it actually criticized right-wing media when it is clearly in the wrong, it would have more credibility with the very constituents it strives to attract.

The Rev. Tony Minor, who heads People For the American Way's African American Ministers in Action, told me he doesn't believe mainstream Republicans buy what Napolitano is selling, but says, "what frightens me is when those Republicans who know those kind of statements are absurd, when they don't speak against it, their silence betrays us from thinking there's any hope of any partnership with them."

In fairness, many conservatives did criticize Fox for its support of Cliven Bundy, but other Republicans, like Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada, called Bundy "a patriot" and only backed away from him when it became clear Bundy was racist.

But when the Republican National Committee's Sean Spicer appeared on my show, CNN's "Newsroom," on Friday, he chose to attack me for not sufficiently covering Democrats who make horribly offensive remarks.

Except we weren't talking about Democrats, a party already backed by minority voters, but Republicans and their worthy efforts to attract a broader base.

The GOP is fighting an uphill battle and it knows it. In 2012, 93% of African-Americans voted for Barack Obama.

Every move that is viewed as an insult is going to make it difficult for the Republican Party to make up ground it needs to win.
Larry Sabato

As Larry Sabato, political scientist from the University of Virginia says, "Republicans belong to a party that desperately needs to deliver good news and appealing personalities to all minority voters." He adds, "Every move that is viewed as an insult is going to make it difficult for the Republican Party to make up ground it needs to win."

In other words, Cliven Bundy: bad, bad, bad.

Marc Lamont Hill of HuffPost Live agrees. He says if you take away Bundy's comments about slavery and focus on what he says about blacks and entitlements: "In many ways what he's saying isn't that different than mainstream Republican ideology and policy. Republicans in so many ways have codified those beliefs through policy or policy initiatives that aren't outliers -- that are part of the mainstream."

Crystal Wright, a conservative Republican who edits the blog ConservativeBlackChick.com, says she is disgusted by the Bundy affair. She told me if the Republican plan to "widen the tent" included more than community outreach, Mr. Bundy might never have become a "folk hero."

"What they (Republicans) need to do is stop looking at black people as this other kind of group," Wright said. "We (African-Americans) need to be brought into the party at all levels. I think if they would include more minorities and women at the table for strategic discussions, you wouldn't have these kind of missteps because somebody would say, hey, guys, I don't think we should embrace Mr. Bundy. Let's do our homework here."

Other black Republicans disagree with Wright. Tara Wall, who is a senior staff member for the RNC, took exception to Wright's assessment of the Republican Party and to my asking Spicer to address Wright's concerns and name some African-American senior staff members.

Tara Wall: Media's coverage of Bundy, race and GOP a disservice

Why is it beneath the dignity of the RNC to reveal the results of its much publicized "autopsy" of its defeat in 2012 or its subsequent plan to attract more African-Americans? One of its stated goals is to "...improve on promoting African-American staff and candidates within the party. The GOP should utilize African-American elected officials as surrogates both in their communities and with the national media. At the staff level, the personnel should be visible and involved in senior political and budget decisions and not be limited to demographic outreach."

Hello! This is politics, not the closed-door deliberations of the Federal Reserve Board. Visibility is part of the game, and transparency is an increasing necessity for the American voter.

So, let's get real.

The Republicans have a problem attracting African-American voters.

And Cliven Bundy made it worse.

Period.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 9:42 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
Conservatives know easing the trade embargo with Cuba is good for America. They should just admit it, says Fareed Zakaria.
updated 8:12 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
We're a world away from Pakistan in geography, but not in sentiment, writes Donna Brazile.
updated 12:09 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
How about a world where we have murderers but no murders? The police still chase down criminals who commit murder, we have trials and justice is handed out...but no one dies.
updated 6:45 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
The U.S. must respond to North Korea's alleged hacking of Sony, says Christian Whiton. Failing to do so will only embolden it.
updated 4:34 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
President Obama has been flexing his executive muscles lately despite Democrat's losses, writes Gloria Borger
updated 2:51 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Jeff Yang says the film industry's surrender will have lasting implications.
updated 4:13 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Newt Gingrich: No one should underestimate the historic importance of the collapse of American defenses in the Sony Pictures attack.
updated 7:55 AM EST, Wed December 10, 2014
Dean Obeidallah asks how the genuine Stephen Colbert will do, compared to "Stephen Colbert"
updated 12:34 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Some GOP politicians want drug tests for welfare recipients; Eric Liu says bailed-out execs should get equal treatment
updated 8:42 AM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Louis Perez: Obama introduced a long-absent element of lucidity into U.S. policy on Cuba.
updated 12:40 PM EST, Tue December 16, 2014
The slaughter of more than 130 children by the Pakistani Taliban may prove as pivotal to Pakistan's security policy as the 9/11 attacks were for the U.S., says Peter Bergen.
updated 11:00 AM EST, Wed December 17, 2014
The Internet is an online extension of our own neighborhoods. It's time for us to take their protection just as seriously, says Arun Vishwanath.
updated 4:54 PM EST, Tue December 16, 2014
Gayle Lemmon says we must speak out for the right of children to education -- and peace
updated 5:23 AM EST, Wed December 17, 2014
Russia's economic woes just seem to be getting worse. How will President Vladimir Putin respond? Frida Ghitis gives her take.
updated 1:39 AM EST, Wed December 17, 2014
Australia has generally seen itself as detached from the threat of terrorism. The hostage incident this week may change that, writes Max Barry.
updated 3:20 PM EST, Fri December 12, 2014
Thomas Maier says the trove of letters the Kennedy family has tried to guard from public view gives insight into the Kennedy legacy and the history of era.
updated 9:56 AM EST, Mon December 15, 2014
Will Congress reform the CIA? It's probably best not to expect much from Washington. This is not the 1970s, and the chances for substantive reform are not good.
updated 4:01 PM EST, Mon December 15, 2014
From superstorms to droughts, not a week goes by without a major disruption somewhere in the U.S. But with the right planning, natural disasters don't have to be devastating.
updated 9:53 AM EST, Mon December 15, 2014
Would you rather be sexy or smart? Carol Costello says she hates this dumb question.
updated 5:53 PM EST, Sun December 14, 2014
A story about Pope Francis allegedly saying animals can go to heaven went viral late last week. The problem is that it wasn't true. Heidi Schlumpf looks at the discussion.
updated 10:50 AM EST, Sun December 14, 2014
Democratic leaders should wake up to the reality that the party's path to electoral power runs through the streets, where part of the party's base has been marching for months, says Errol Louis
updated 4:23 PM EST, Sat December 13, 2014
David Gergen: John Brennan deserves a national salute for his efforts to put the report about the CIA in perspective
updated 9:26 AM EST, Fri December 12, 2014
Anwar Sanders says that in some ways, cops and protesters are on the same side
updated 9:39 AM EST, Thu December 11, 2014
A view by Samir Naji, a Yemeni who was accused of serving in Osama bin Laden's security detail and imprisoned for nearly 13 years without charge in Guantanamo Bay
updated 12:38 PM EST, Sun December 14, 2014
S.E. Cupp asks: How much reality do you really want in your escapist TV fare?
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT