Republican National Chairman Reince Priebus
CREDIT: AP Photo/Josh Reynolds
On Friday, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus proudly told his party’s annual winter meeting that their efforts to “engage with voters of all backgrounds” are working. But despite his words of inclusion — and that of several of his predecessors — the party’s continued opposition to voting rights, protecting women’s reproductive health, comprehensive immigration reform, and LGBT equality has rendered these efforts largely fruitless.
After the Republican Party lost the popular vote in the 2012 election for the fifth time in the last six presidential elections (and lost ground in both the U.S. Senate and House), an official autopsy report called for more “demographic partners” among the nations Latinos, African Americans, women, and other groups that voted overwhelmingly in favor of Barack Obama in both 2008 and 2012. Priebus boasted Friday, “We’re getting to know communities where we hadn’t been for a long time, and we’re talking to people who hadn’t heard from us for too long. That’s how you grow a party.”
But a ThinkProgress review of the other men who have chaired the party in recent years finds that his predecessors have been using similar language for years:
Michael Steele (2009-2011)
Former Maryland Lt. Governor Steele, the first African American chairman in his party’s history promised in his acceptance speech that minority outreach would be a hallmark of his chairmanship. “We’re going to bring, we’re going to bring this party to every corner, every boardroom, every neighborhood, every community, and we’re going to say to friend and foe alike, we want you to be a part of us, we want you to work with us, and for those of you who wish to obstruct, get ready to get knocked over.”
Mike Duncan (2007-2009)
Duncan blasted a Republican seeking to be his successor as RNC chairman for distributing a CD featuring a racist parody song called “Barack the Magic Negro.” He noted that the 2008 election had been “a wake-up call for Republicans to reach out and bring more people into our party.” After the 2013 autopsy report, Duncan observed that the party must do better at appealing to minority voters: “It’s the consistency of delivering a message with the right tone to Hispanic voters or other groups.”
Mel Martinez (2007)
Former Florida U.S. Senator Martinez, the first Latino to serve as general chairman of the RNC, promised as he began his term to “take the message of our Party to all Americans” and expand outreach. “To be the Party of the future means that we also have to be a party that opens the door wide-open so that all Americans feel welcome. There are too many Americans who do not understand that the principles of Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, and Ronald Reagan speak to their hopes, their dreams, and their aspirations.” He added that, “I want to make sure that we take that message to the broader Hispanic community, to the African-American community, and to all communities that may never have believed that Republican ideals spoke to them.” Upset over his party’s anti-immigrant views, Martinez resigned less than a year into the job.
Ken Mehlman (2005-2007)
Mehlman, who came out as gay after his chairmanship and apologized for his role in supporting the George W. Bush campaign’s anti-LGBT strategy, also claimed that minority outreach was a key part of his agenda as chairman. “We made historic outreach to African Americans, Hispanics, taking steps to make the Party of Lincoln whole again,” he boasted as he ended his tenure.
Ed Gillespie (2003-2005)
Gillespie, who is now running for U.S. Senate in Virginia, talked a great deal about minority outreach. “We are reaching out to all Americans,” he said in 2004, “including Asian-Americans, Hispanics, Catholics and African-Americans, with the message that our party’s values and principles are more in line with those held by the majority of Americans. People are listening, our message is resonating and the Republican Party is making inroads.” His outreach efforts largely consisted of an “African-American Economic Empowerment Outreach Tour” with controversial boxing promoter Don King and speeches minority pastors boasting of his and the party’s strong opposition to same-sex marriage equality.
Marc Racicot (2002-2003)
Former Montana Gov. Racicot too spoke forcefully about making the GOP inclusive. “Upon receiving my assignment, the one charge President Bush made clear to me was to reach out to every community in America,” he said at the party’s 2002 summer meeting. “Because they believe in the President’s positive agenda, we are seeing new faces and new voices join our cause. Our grassroots efforts are taking root in every state in the nation and changing the face of our party, enlarging our possibilities for success.”
The impacts of their efforts have been minimal. Exit polls in 2012 showed 93 percent of African Americans, 71 percent of Latinos, 73 percent of Asian Americans, 76 percent of gay, lesbian, and bisexual voters, and 55 percent of women voted for Obama. By comparison, in 2000, Democratic nominee Al Gore received support from 90 percent of African American voters, 62 percent of Latinos, 62 percent of Asian Americans, 71 percent of gay, lesbian, bisexual people, and 52 percent of women.
Likely undermining the words of inclusion have been the party’s actions. House Republicans have blocked consideration of the Senate’s bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform bill and the party’s official platform rejects “any form of amnesty” for undocumented immigrants. have vowed to oppose . The well-documented “War on Women” by many in the GOP has included state and national efforts to restrict women’s reproductive rights, proposed restrictions on contraception access, and refusal to allow passage of a law to protect women who sue over being paid less than their male counterparts. State Republican legislators have pushed voter photo ID laws which disenfranchise minority voters. And last year, the Republican National Committee reaffirmed, on a nearly unanimous vote, its fervent opposition to marriage equality for same-sex couples.
Last year, former chairman Mel Martinez told CNN’s Soledad O’Brien, “I think that our party has done a poor job reaching out to these particular [minority] groups.” “Is it that they don’t know you? Meaning you as the GOP,” O’Brien asked Martinez, “Or is that they know you and they decided they don’t like you?” With just 32 percent of the population now viewing the GOP favorably, it does not seem that merely “talking to people” is going to improve the GOP’s minority support.
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