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Are GOP Efforts to Woo Minorities at National Convention Too Little Too Late?

Photo: Library of Congress

In an election cycle that is already hyper-focused on race, the 2012 Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida, seems to be offering a more diverse array of speakers than it has in the past. Among the ideological blend of Libertarian-leaning Tea Party conservatives and establishment stalwarts, is also a mix of women, Hispanic, and black Republican leaders.

Whether there are enough of them is a separate issue, but unlike the 2004 and 2008 conventions, which combined, offered no more than four real representatives of women, Latinos or Jewish communities (former New York Mayor Ed Koch, Gov. Linda Lingle, Sen. Mel Martinez and Sen. Joe Lieberman), the 2012 contingent seems much more, well, progressive.

The current line-up of speakers includes former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Florida Senator Marco Rubio, Governors Susana Martinez, Nikki Haley and Bobby Jindal, as well as Texas senate hopeful Ted Cruz among several others. If one heeds history, however, this may not be quite the Republican epiphany it appears at first blush. Perhaps Republicans are simply returning to their roots.

Given today’s pervasive stereotypes of Republicans, it is easy to forget the Grand Old Party’s origin -- now claimed by the Democrats -- as the “champions of the disenfranchised.” Few recall that the GOP was in fact founded as an anti-slavery party and that “Honest Abe” led the charge against the Confederates during the Civil War prior to freeing more than 3 million (and in some estimates, as many as 4 million) slaves with his Emancipation Proclamation. While the road to equality would continue to face grave challenges in the years ahead, under the banner of the Republican Party a new era of freedom and human rights for blacks in America was possible.

At this time, it might be prudent to review Civil Rights legislation that Republicans were responsible for, and which Democrats opposed. Additional details on both parties' Civil Rights records can be found here and here.

1. The Emancipation Proclamation

2. The 13th Amendment

3. The 14th Amendment

4. The 15th Amendment

5. The Reconstruction Act of 1867

6. The Civil Rights of Act 1866

7. The Enforcement Act of 1870

8. The Forced Act of 1871

9. The Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871

10. The Civil Rights Act of 1875

11. The Freeman Bureau

12. The Civil Rights Act of 1957 (President Dwight D. Eisenhower)

13. The Civil Rights Act of 1960

14. The United State Civil Rights Commission

Further, Republicans gave strong bi-partisan support and sponsorship for the following legislation:

15. The Civil Rights Act of 1964

17. The Voting Rights Act of 1965

18. The 1968 Civil Rights Acts

19. The Equal Opportunity Act of 1972

20. Goals and Timetables for Affirmative Action Programs

21. Comprehensive Employment Training Act of 1973

22. Voting Rights Amendment of 1982

23. Civil Rights Act of 1983

24. Federal Contract Compliance and Workforce Development Act of 1988

More recently, these unsung “progressives” would become the first to draft modern-day Civil Rights legislation – legislation that was opposed by a series of Democrats, including Lyndon B. Johnson and John F. Kennedy – all the while remaining the sole guardians of the constitution, standing between the Democrats and their ardent attempts to maintain a segregated South under the very Jim Crow laws they had created.

Yet despite its record of advancing human rights and equality on behalf of embattled minorities, Republicans are now instead portrayed as subjugators, and the legacy of the GOP is wrought in the stereotype that it's comprised exclusively of wealthy, white men who look down their noses at blacks, Hispanics and other minority groups, while simultaneously waging an all-out “war on women.”

Speaking of the war on women...

The Republican Party, while heavily vested in Civil Rights, also found itself at the forefront of yet another struggle for human rights with women’s suffrage, ultimately granting women the right to vote and run for higher office. Advocating “gender equality” at a time when such terms were unheard of in the daily vernacular may be ironic considering today’s liberal talking points on the issue.

While Democrats often invoke their feminist-credentials when painting themselves the "breakers of glass ceilings," another inconvenient historical tidbit may derail their narrative. Women have been included in the Republican Party since its inception in the 1850's, and Susan B. Anthony, who dedicated her life to women’s suffrage, was the one who in fact drafted the 19th amendment along with Elizabeth Cady Stanton. After 40-plus years of Democratic-led opposition, Republicans finally passed the legislation, granting women the right to vote in 1920.

“I think that is an important piece of information for women to remember,” said Rae Chornenky, Chair of the National Federation of Republican Women (NFRW) during an interview with TheBlaze. So what then would be the basis for a Republican-led assault on women?

Described by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), as the “legislative and rhetorical attacks on women and women’s rights…across the nation,” conservatives feel there are few if any more hackneyed claims propagated by the Left than the purported GOP-waged “War on Women.” Conservatives believe the Democratic Party routinely places the pro-choice agenda front and center, even before issues such as the economy, but never more so than during election time.

In fact, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D.- California), said recently that this “sickness” (presumably conservative views on abortion and contraception) among Republicans “goes all the way to the top of the Republican ticket.”

“The truth is there’s a war against women, and it’s not going to end until we all say at the polls.”

Boxer also said that Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan will be the “top generals” of this "war" based solely on the fact that they oppose subsidizing abortion with tax dollars.

Much of the debate, for conservatives, centers around Republican views that abortion and contraception are not "rights" that should be mandated and subsidized by the government.

Opposing the idea that a religious-based employer should be forced to pay for an employee’s contraception when contraception goes directly against that religion’s principles, is, in the minds of conservatives, as egregious an assault on one’s rights as Democrats' belief in not granting taxpayer subsidized contraception and abortion is to women.

The National Federation of Republican Women's Chornenky, whose group is 75,000-women strong, believes that the Republican National Committee is sensitive to the issues important to minority groups and that it provides all the necessary resources needed for effective outreach to various communities. As NFRW is the largest women’s political organization, she will be speaking at the convention to show her group’s support for Mitt Romney, who will be officially named the Republican nominee for president at the event.

“I don’t think the media image of Republicans is an accurate image,” Chornenky told TheBlaze. “We’ve said over and over that the mythical war on women is another side show to take attention away from what women are really concerned about.” And for the NFRW Chair, that issue is the economy.

“The media does not give an accurate picture. It is important to give facts and statistics. Since Obama took office…8.1 percent of women are unemployed.”

Chornenky also painted a grim picture of the poverty rate, which, at 40 percent, has skyrocketed among women in the last 17 years. She suspects that entitlement programs have exacerbated the problem in this economic-bracket, where women have ceased to become self-reliant.

“It's unacceptable,” says Chornenky.

Where did the bond between blacks and Republicans go? 

The GOP has a long, tangible history advocating for Civil Rights while Democrats brought the country de jure racism and vehemently opposed any attempts at establishing racial equality until the mid 1960s, when President Johnson finally acquiesced to mounting pressure and signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In fact, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was, himself, a Republican. Yet a recent NBC-Wall Street Journal poll reveals that "zero percent" of blacks approve of Republican nominee Mitt Romney and this, after members of the black community have even expressed disappointment in Obama.

So what is driving the majority of blacks in America to shun the GOP?

TheBlaze caught up with the ever-outspoken Pastor C.L. Bryant to glean insight into the possible reasons, as well as discuss his take on conservatism and the black community.

“Conservatives now have a great opportunity to build the bridge that was hoped to be built by this first president of color,” Pastor Bryant told TheBlaze in an exclusive interview.

“The Republican Party has a pedigree and long history of making certain that rights were distributed equally according to our constitution. The first plank in the GOP platform when they were formed in the 1850s was the abolition of slavery.”

Bryant, director of the provocative documentary “Runaway Slave” and a former NAACP leader himself, acknowledged that it was in fact Democrats who “stood in the way” of civil rights and progress with their collective push for Jim Crow laws, poll taxes and at the University of Alabama in 1963, when then-Democratic Governor George Wallace, in a symbolic protest against desegregation, stood in the doorway of Foster Auditorium to affirm his pledge of “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.”

“This is what Runaway Slave points out,” Bryant explained. “Eisenhower’s civil rights bill was opposed by Democrats like [Lyndon] Johnson and JFK…They were foes of that 1957 bill.” Bryant went on to explain that the mounting pressure of Civil Rights marches, Martin Luther King’s speeches and the Vietnam War protests combined, all inevitably prompted Johnson to cave in to the mounting tensions. By 1964, LBJ signed into law the civil rights legislation that Illinois Republican Senator Everett Dirksen helped write and pass through Congress.

The end result, however, was a reset for Democrats, who could now claim fame to advancing the cause of Civil Rights. The pastor said it was indeed a clever way to "co-opt the black community," which has since become an ever-faithful voting bloc for Democrats. He dubs the phenomenon the “new plantation.”

Bryant marveled at the idea that, if asked today, a majority of blacks would invariably say that the KKK and Jim Crow were Republicans creations, when it couldn't be further from the truth. “They are just that misinformed.”

The pastor, who will be attending the Republican National Convention to promote his documentary, said Republicans have a golden opportunity to use their “rich history to build a bridge” and show that blacks should return to conservatism. However, based on the current speaker line-up that excludes Bryant and other powerful, black conservative voices, “they evidently don’t realize the opportunity because people like me are still on the fringe.”

When asked why the GOP is squandering its chance to renew its ties to the black community, Pastor Bryant suspects that a defeatist attitude is at play. Republicans “are victims of the same type of lie that black folks are a victim of – that it would be futile to attempt to be a Republican,” he noted.

“So you have this place where someone like myself, Allen West and Herman Cain, have to find a way to bring the two camps to the same table. If that happened…and we look at our core values together, without progressive agitators, I think Republicans and black folks will see that they have far more in common than they have differences.”

And Bryant hasn't had it easy. As a minister of over 34 years and former NAACP president, he claims to have a “unique vantage point” on how the liberal machine operates through bribery and coercion.

“I have seen it with my own eyes -- I've been approached by progressives with checkbooks and you have to allow it to boil down to character and principle. That is one reason why I did in fact leave the organization [NAACP].”

“Personally, I choose to live with the principle.”

To garner additional perspective from the conservative black community, TheBlaze also spoke with FreedomWorks’ director of outreach, Deneen Borelli, who believes that while the GOP’s pro-civil rights history should speak for itself, the Left is “clever about playing the race card.” She hopes Republicans will be more outspoken about their true legacy in the black community and sees the upcoming election as a perfect opportunity for the Party to convey that message.

The unabashed conservative also told TheBlaze that less government intrusion, lower taxes, and an emphasis on personal responsibility would lead to greater independence for African Americans who are currently under the thumb of welfare programs.

Currently, there are more people on food stamps than ever before – some 46 million in fact – and, according to Borelli, unemployment among blacks is “unacceptably high.”

While the decision to ramp-up conservative outreach in the black community may seem straightforward, race is a touchy subject, especially for a contingent that has been portrayed as being wholly disconnected from the issues important to minority groups. Still, the “Backlash” author feels the need to deliver a message of personal freedom that should trump the fear of being labeled “racist.” Perhaps one way around this challenge, according to Borelli, is to engage and cultivate rising conservative voices in the black community.

The fastest-growing voting bloc

Considered the fastest growing voting bloc, Hispanics now comprise one of the most loyal Democratic contingents in the country. Yet while this demographic embraces a rather conservative social value system and work ethic, it somehow aligns itself with the left when it comes time to visit the polling stations.

Recall that two-thirds of Hispanics – 66 percent – voted for Barack Obama during the 2008 presidential election, despite Republican John McCain’s long-time advocacy of immigration reform and support for the Latino community. Not even his work on comprehensive immigration reform and the McCain-Kennedy immigration bill could secure McCain a decisive victory with Hispanics, who favored George W. Bush by eight percentage points in the 2004 election.

Many believed then, as now, that the reason lies in a broader problem among Latino's perceptions of Republicans as a whole. While they may favor individual GOP candidates, Hispanics have expressed fear in electing "the party."

Elizabeth Villegas and Vicente Bustamente, members of the Hispanic Tea Party group, "Amigos de Patriots," spoke to TheBlaze in July about their outreach work in the Latino community. Villegas said that Spanish television is overrun with anti-Republican commercials, news and programs and that the mindset it has created is difficult to break. She said that Latinos are “misinformed about the conservative movement.”

Amigos de Patriots was created, according to Villegas, as a counterbalance to the liberal onslaught. “I don’t blame them [Hispanics], they are just misinformed.“ She said that while it remains an uphill battle to convert hearts and minds, something has to be done as the rapidly growing Hispanic population -- most of whom will end up voting Democrat -- will soon "eclipse" conservatives in terms of sheer numbers.

Bustamente believes that an aggressive Democratic-led public relations campaign is underway targeting Latinos and he blames Republicans for not taking outreach seriously. “It’s a huge mistake,” he told TheBlaze.

Invoking the lessons of Sen. McCain, Cecilia Munoz, senior vice president of the office of research, advocacy and legislation at the National Council of La Raza in 2008, told CNSNews in a post-election interview that despite the senator's popularity among Hispanics, Latinos simply do not trust the Republican Party due to its stance on immigration, which they deem racist.

“They became the party of immigrant-bashing, and the Republican brand was badly tarnished in the Latino community,” Munoz said. “He (McCain) was unable to overcome that. There were other candidates in his party that were running on very harsh anti-immigrant tickets and who had harsh anti-immigrant messages.”  So in other words, to Hispanics, a few of who they consider "rotten apples" spoil the bunch.

Time and again, Hispanic conservatives reiterate the same concern and ask the same question: Why isn't the GOP doing more in terms of outreach in our community? Perhaps by supporting rising stars like senate hopeful Ted Cruz, Senator Marco Rubio, Gov. Susana Martinez and others, a turn of the tide might be in store for the GOP.


[Editor's note: In an upcoming article to be released next week, TheBlaze will explore in greater detail how Democrats have successfully managed to cultivate a strong and loyal minority following despite their checkered past.] 

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