It didn’t get too much attention, but shortly before the holiday weekend got underway, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) delivered remarks at the National Press Club, and it turned out to be one of the more interesting speeches this year from a Republican presidential candidate.
BuzzFeed’s report described it as “remarkable,” and it’s worth appreciating why.
The years of states’ rights messaging have squandered the Republican’s once close relationship with black voters, especially in the south, Perry said.“For too long, we Republicans have been content to lose the black vote because we found we didn’t need it to win. But when we gave up trying to win the support of African Americans, we lost our moral legitimacy as the party of Lincoln, as the party of equal opportunity for all,” Perry said. “It’s time for us once again to reclaim our heritage as the only party in our country founded on the principle of freedom for African Americans.”
According to the official transcript, Perry added, “There has been, and there will continue to be an important and a legitimate role for the federal government in enforcing civil rights. Too often, we Republicans, me included, have emphasized our message on the 10th Amendment but not our message on the 14th.”
The former governor’s candor was certainly a welcome addition to the campaign discourse, and this isn’t the kind of rhetoric we heard from Perry in his first bid for national office four years ago. For that matter, any time a prominent far-right candidate acknowledges a legitimate role for the federal government to do much of anything, especially protecting civil rights, it’s refreshing.
The trouble with Perry’s speech, however, wasn’t its intentions. Rather, the problem was the fact that the remarks were incomplete.
For the Texas Republican, his party has ignored the African-American community, which was both a tactical and a moral failure. In recent election cycles, however, we’ve seen all kinds of Republican Party officials reaching out to black voters, acknowledging mistakes of the past, vowing to do better, and then failing to follow through.
The more insidious problem isn’t the GOP’s modern indifference to African Americans, but rather, the party’s deliberate steps to stifle the black vote and prevent minority communities from participating in their own democracy. It’s something Perry, of all people, should recognize well.
At the same time, Republicans have, by their own admission, relied heavily on a “Southern Strategy” that exploited racial animus to further the party’s ambitions.
Perry’s version of recent history understates matters in important ways. The GOP hasn’t ignored African-American community, because that would suggest a degree of indifference. The truth is far uglier.
Looking ahead, the former governor’s speech suggested the key to Republican gains is sincere and deliberate outreach – GOP candidates will get more black votes if the party makes a good-faith effort to ask for them.
But this, too, is based on faulty assumptions. By Perry’s reasoning, the Republican Party’s ideas and policies would enjoy broad African-American support if only the GOP tried harder to sell them.
The truth is far more complicated. Outreach is great, but what exactly are Republican candidates and officials prepared to say to black voters? Are they prepared to explain the party’s hostility towards the Voting Rights Act? Do they have a prepared defense of Paul Ryan’s budget plan and its effects on low-income families? Are they ready to talk about House Majority Leader Steve Scalise’s (R-La.) past?
Perry’s steps towards contrition were nice. It seems, however, he and his party have quite a few more steps to go.
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Rick Perry laments ties between GOP, black voters