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Commentary: Mia Love is right -- Republicans need to change how they engage minorities

(Sebastian Smith/AFP/Getty Images)

Rep. Mia Love, in her concession speech Monday, directed some pointed criticisms at the Republican Party about its engagement with minorities.

The congresswoman said that minorities, particularly African Americans, gravitate toward the Democratic Party because Republicans “claim to know what’s best for us from a safe distance” and “never take minority communities…into their homes and their hearts.”

Instead, Love said, minorities go to the Democrats who “do take them home — or at least make them feel like they have a home.”

As The Daily Wire’s Ben Shapiro has said, “Facts don’t care about your feelings.” And that’s true. But when it comes to politics, facts that don’t resonate with people on a personal level — facts that aren't felt — can fall flat. Research has shown how significant an impact emotions and feelings have on voter behavior.

Effective political outreach must be based in fact. But many people will only listen to your facts if they feel that you care about them. It’s time for the Republican Party to restore that feeling among minority voters.

Republicans have a branding problem

Anecdotally, I believe there are many additional votes that Republican candidates could win if they — and the party establishment as a whole — were more proactive about acknowledging negative perceptions about the party among minorities and actively combating them.

Most of my friends are politically liberal. This is usually not because of deeply researched positions on economics, the size of government, or health care policy. It’s largely because of a widely accepted narrative in the black community that Republicans are, at best, unsupportive or uncaring about minorities and, at worst, racist.

That’s why the revelation among my black friends or in barbershop discussions that I vote Republican is so often met with shock or even animosity.

Without even naming a candidate or discussing an issue, the association of a black man with the Republican Party is automatically rejected as selling out or being brainwashed or catering to the white man. The Republican Party has a branding problem among black people.

Long before Kanye West met with President Donald Trump in the Oval Office wearing a MAGA hat, he told the nation that George Bush doesn't care about black people. And that statement, true or not, is much more reflective of black perceptions of the Republican Party than anything West has said since.

Is it really about the issues?

In one conversation I had with a friend about black people’s perceptions of Republicans, he made an important observation. He said many black people, despite voting Democrat, are extremely socially conservative, but are driven away from the Republican Party by a belief that the Republican Party is either indifferent or hostile toward blacks.

I find this to be especially true of church members. The black church is such an important institution in many communities; it is often the center of influence for political and social matters. So you’ve got all these black Christians who are conservative on crucial issues like gay marriage, abortion, religious freedom, or gender, but many still vote Democrat.

And that’s not just anecdotal; according to Religion & Politics, only 7 percent of black born-again Christians voted for President Donald Trump.

In Alabama’s special Senate election in December 2017, which featured Democrat Doug Jones defeating Roy Moore, 96 percent of black voters chose Jones, and 76 percent of those black voters identified as “born-again” or “evangelical.”

White Christians overwhelmingly voted Republican in 2016. So, it’s clear that racial perceptions are costing Republicans a lot of minority votes — votes from people who actually agree with them on many, if not most, relevant issues.

What’s the obstacle? 

As Love said during an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper on Monday, the problem isn’t policy.

“The reason why I’m a Republican and a conservative is I know these policies work,” Love said. “My parents came from a country (Haiti) where it was one dictator after another. They taught me the value of personal responsibility, fiscal discipline, limited government. I got a front row seat to seeing that actually work.”

Love said Republicans need to make minority voters feel like they can trust them, and that policies are about more than just political transactions to get a vote. They need to make voters trust that the party won't turn a blind eye to racism or stay silent on discrimination when it is politically convenient.

That trust starts with bridging the gap on race. Justin E. Giboney articulated the issue well in a May column for The Hill:

"The truth is, the Republican Party has never fully divested itself of the vestiges of the Southern Strategy, which in the late 1960s and early ’70s invited segregationists into the party to secure a majority. Too many conservative elected officials and civic organizations still readily accept and are dependent on the votes and money of their less than racially tolerant constituents. This isn’t to suggest that all Republicans are racist or uninterested in improving race relations, but the party’s leadership still humors racist voters, especially during primary season.”

What's the solution?

The solution to this is, as Love suggested, relationship building. Republican candidates and elected officials must be more aggressive about going into minority communities and being transparent about the disconnect between the Republican Party and minority voters, and address it head on. Get the issue out in the open, thereby removing it as a barrier preventing otherwise like-minded voters from voting Republican.

Don’t tell us to vote Republican because “What the hell do you have to lose?” as President Donald Trump once said. Don’t tell us to vote Republican because the Democrats are actually the real racists so Republicans are the better choice. Give black voters and all minorities something to vote for. Something they can feel and believe in. Once that connection is established, then effective policy can do its job for communities.

Facts don’t care about feelings. But voters do, and if Republicans are interested in expanding the reach and influence of their facts, policies, and ideologies, they need understand how minorities feel about the party, and get to work on correcting that perception.

One last thing…
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