The week after the 2018 midterm elections, soon-to-be House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) was asked about the Republican caucus’ lack of racial and gender diversity. Trying to put a positive spin on a fairly obvious problem.
“We have a lot of room to grow,” McCarthy said, adding, “We’re diverse, but we can continue to expand and improve.”
If his pitch wasn’t especially persuasive, it’s probably because the numbers paint a striking portrait. The new Congress is the most diverse in American history, which is due almost entirely to the diversity in the House Democratic caucus.
With this in mind, Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) launched a rebranded leadership PAC late last week – it’s called “E-PAC” – that will focus on helping Republican women in congressional primaries, as a way of improving the party’s gender diversity. We’ve seen GOP officials launch similar initiatives in years past, and time will tell whether this one succeeds where others fell short.
But of particular interest was House Minority Whip Steve Scalise’s (R-La.) remarks at Stefanik’s event, and his explanation for why his caucus is dominated by white men. CQ published a transcript of the Louisianan’s comments:
“I’ve noticed that when female members run on the Republican side, Nancy Pelosi will spend a lot more money, in many cases twice as much more to defeat Republican female candidates in incumbents.
“And when I go look back, in Mia Love’s race, it was the most expensive race in the country the first time she ran and she lost barely in a recount. She ran again two years later, that was the second most expensive race in the country, and she won. And you can see in this last cycle, Pelosi spent millions of dollars to ultimately take her out. And you can see that and a lot of these races, and I so I think we all need to be aware.
“We need to do a better job of recruiting to make sure we recruit really good female candidates and what Elise PAC is doing, E-PAC, is making sure that we recognize that when female candidates run as Republicans, Nancy Pelosi does not want our party to look diverse.”
So, the vast majority of House Republicans are white men, and that’s … Nancy Pelosi’s fault?
The transcript suggests Scalise was quite serious about this. The House GOP leader – who has an unfortunate record on this issue – went on in his remarks to complain about House Democrats defeating former Florida Reps. Allen West and Carlos Curbelo in recent cycles.
Referring to Democratic efforts to defeat Republicans who aren’t white men, Scalise added, The “Democrats, on their side, Pelosi has worked extra hard. They will spend even more money.”
I’m not aware of any research that shows Democrats making “extra” efforts to ensure Republicans don’t “look diverse,” and the whole idea of blaming the GOP’s challenges on Nancy Pelosi seem far-fetched.
But there’s a larger truth to keep in mind: if Republicans are blaming Pelosi and Democrats for the GOP’s lack of diversity, they’re failing to acknowledge the actual explanations behind their demographic challenges.
This is, after all, a party that nominated and elected Donald Trump – whose only meaningful contribution to American politics before launching a campaign was championing a racist conspiracy theory, who was recorded bragging about assaulting women, and who maintained his party’s backing after defending white nationalists who marched in Charlottesville.
It’s a party that tolerated Rep. Steve King’s antics in Iowa and Paul LePage’s antics in Maine. It’s a party that welcomed the likes of Jesse Helms and Strom Thurmond after they abandoned their “Dixiecrat” background. It’s a party that too often continues to target voting rights, too often uses “feminist” as an insult, and recently allowed the Violence Against Women Act to lapse.
“Nancy Pelosi does not want our party to look diverse”? The sooner Republicans stop blaming the House Speaker, and start owning up to their record, the better.