How should conservatives reach out to “non-traditional” (read: non-white) Republican voters? Just tell them that because they have a lower life expectancy than whites, they should care less about Social Security and vote with the party that cares more about protecting personal wealth than earned benefits.
That’s the advice that Elroy Sailor — CEO of J.C. Watts Companies, a lobbying firm — gave at this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), the country’s largest gathering of conservative voters, businesses, and leaders in America. Sailor, who’s African-American, did not explore why blacks have a lower life expectancy, and he notably ignored how that’s connected with gun violence (nearly 50 percent of homicide victims are black). Instead, he touted his family’s history of gun ownership, proudly claiming that when he was 13 years old, his father told him to protect his family when he had night shifts. In the ghetto, he said, guns are a necessary part of life.
Sporting cowboy boots and a southern twang, Sailor was one of four speakers addressing the issue of low minority support for Republicans at a panel entitled “Reaching Out: The Rest of the Story.” He was joined by one other African-American panelist: Robert Woodson, president of the Center for Neighborhood Enterprise, a Washington, D.C.-based organization built to “help residents of low-income neighborhoods address the problems of their community.” They were two of only a handful of black faces among thousands of overwhelmingly vanilla CPAC attendees.
Republicans are clearly worried about low support among minorities, and they have every reason to be. Speaking on the panel, Senate hopeful Ed Gillespie of Virginia said that in the last election, only 11 percent of black voters supported Republican candidates (up from 9 percent in 2008). Furthermore, the last election had a higher turnout among black voters than white voters.
“We are on an unsustainable path if we don’t correct things,” warned panel moderator Jason Roe, a political consultant.
The question the party is grappling with is whether to change its tactics to court minority voters, or instead try to show these voters that its tactics work for them. Gillespie prefers the latter approach.
“It’s about sticking to our conservative values and showing people that they work for them,” he said. “Everything that [Democrats] do results in lost income, lower take-home pay, higher health care costs. We’ve got to provide a positive alternative.”
Woodson stressed the importance of building a grassroots movement among black voters. “We’ve got to demonstrate that we care, not just tell them that we care or that we share their values… we have got to reach out to them.” He suggested that conservatives should offer financial support for community initiatives, as liberal donors have done through programs like President Obama’s new “My Brother’s Keeper.”