Fifty years ago, Republican Barry Goldwater opposed the Voting Rights Act and black voters abandoned the party en masse. Goldwater lost; polling data showed he’d won just 6% of black votes.
In 2012, the GOP did it again. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney won just 6% of black votes – the lowest share of black voters since Goldwater – and lost the election. Republican leaders quickly got out in front of the story, acknowledged their need and desire to better appeal to minorities.
Three years later at a massive civil rights occasion, the GOP are still noticeably absent.
More than 100 congressional lawmakers are expected this weekend in Selma, Alabama, to commemorate the signing of the Voting Rights Act, the 50th anniversary of the brutal suppression of civil rights demonstrations known as “Bloody Sunday,” and the Selma-to-Montgomery march in 1965. Just 23 of them are current congressional Republicans, Politico reported – 8% of the 301-person caucus. If exactly 100 congressional lawmakers in total show up, that means 77 Democrats (or Independents who caucus with them) – 31% of the caucus – will be present.
Most Republican leaders won’t be in Selma, either. Senate Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell, House Speaker John Boehner and House Majority Whip Steve Scalise won’t observe the anniversary event. Many thought Scalise would attend in the wake of the controversy over his address to a white supremacist group white in state government, but his office said he had a scheduling conflict and hoped to attend in 2016.
Late Friday, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s office announced the congressman would be travelling to Selma after GOP leaders had faced scrutiny over their planned absence from the event, according to NBC News’ Alex Moe. ”It’s his 2nd time and he also hosted a screening of the movie w/ Rep. John Lewis to recruit folks to go,” McCarthy spokesman Mike Long said in an email.
“Speaker Boehner was proud earlier this month when the House passed legislation awarding the Congressional Gold Medal to the civil rights marchers in Selma 50 years ago, and will be proud to welcome them to a ceremony in the Capitol to bestow this honor,” Boehner spokesman Michael Steele said in response to inquiries of why the Speaker wasn’t attending. McConnell did not respond to requests for comment.
Former President George W. Bush and his wife, Laura, will join the First Family in Selma, but Morning Joe host Joe Scarborough said it was crucial that the GOP send a member of the leadership.
“Hey Republican Leadership. Get your ass down there. Put somebody on the plane and send them to Selma,” he said on Friday. “This is not hard, don’t golf, don’t raise money, get somebody in the Republican leadership down to Selma to celebrate an extraordinary moment in American history.”
This isn’t the first time the GOP’s absence at major civil rights history events has hurt them: Two years ago, not a single elected Republican joined lawmakers and activists on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to commemorate the March on Washington, earning criticism from many.