A week ago today, there was a narrow window in which House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) looked like he was in real trouble. The Louisiana Republican confirmed that he’d spoken at a white-supremacist event in 2002 and it seemed like the sort of controversy that might force Scalise from his leadership post.
It didn’t. The Majority Whip and his allies scrambled to keep a lid on the controversy, and less than 24 hours later, the House Republican leadership rallied behind Scalise. At this point, literally zero GOP lawmakers in either chamber have called for the far-right Louisianan to step down, and when members elect their leadership team for the new Congress tomorrow, Scalise will not have an intra-party rival.
Over the weekend, we were reminded of the party’s eagerness to simply move on.
Rep-elect Mia Love, the first black Republican woman elected to Congress, stood by Scalise and his leadership role after he apologized for giving a speech at a white supremacist conference in 2002. […]“I can say, as far as I’m concerned, with Rep. Scalise, he has been absolutely wonderful to work with. He’s been very helpful for me and he has had the support of his colleagues,” Love said. “I believe he should remain in leadership,” Love added.
On “Meet the Press,” Republican Sen. John Barrasso, a member of the Senate GOP leadership team, added, “I’ve just gotten back from Wyoming [and] this has not come up as a discussion in Wyoming.”
I’m curious, though, about what happens now. I don’t mean Scalise’s future, which has apparently been decided in his favor by his GOP allies, but it’s hard not to wonder about the fate of the Republican Party’s minority outreach efforts.
Reporting on the Scalise story last week, the New York Times noted, “The controversy erupted as Republicans were making a renewed effort to reach out to black voters.” The Washington Post added that some in the party “worried about the potential political fallout from a fresh racial controversy for a party eager to show its broadening appeal to minorities ahead of the 2016 presidential election.”
Those worries are well grounded.
I’m reminded of this Aliyah Frumin piece from October about 2016 Republicans taking preliminary steps to broaden their appeal.
Republican Gov. Chris Christie recently delivered the keynote address at an annual New Jersey NAACP conference for the first time in five years…. His remarks – during which at least two NAACP presidents of two city chapters walked out – come as other potential 2016 Republican presidential candidates are also trying to make inroads with African-American voters, who tend to vote Democratic and twice came out in force for Barack Obama.Last Friday, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky called the GOP’s failure to reach out to blacks the biggest mistake it’s made in recent decades. He did so after meeting with civil rights leaders in Ferguson, Missouri ahead of a new wave of protests following the police killing of an unarmed black teen in August. And Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin has also visited a slew of urban neighborhoods in the past year-and-a-half, releasing an anti-poverty plan over the summer.
Last week, none of the likely Republican presidential candidates offered even mild criticism of Scalise.
Which leads me to wonder exactly what GOP leaders expect to say as they ramp up their outreach efforts to minority communities. How do they respond when asked about a leading congressional Republican appearing at a white-nationalist gathering, which the party decided not to care about?
The answer will probably be that this was an innocent mistake – the House Republican leader, invited to speak to white nationalists by an aide to a KKK leader, didn’t realize he was associating with racists. Maybe this will prove persuasive, maybe not.
But the next step won’t be any easier. Even if party officials and candidates ignore the Scalise matter going forward, the rest of the pitch remains murky. Are Republicans willing to back off their voter-suppression efforts? No, they’re not. Are Republicans now prepared to work on restoration of the Voting Rights Act? No, at least not yet. Are Republicans willing to vote on a bipartisan immigration reform package the party killed last year? No, that’s dead, too.
Is the party eager to invest in educational opportunities for minority communities? How about access to affordable medical care? Maybe criminal-justice reforms? No, no, and no.
I’m willing to believe that party officials, facing long-term demographic challenges, really do care about expanding the party’s base of support beyond the older, white core group of voters Republicans have generally relied on in recent cycles. But the Scalise controversy reinforces the scope of the GOP’s problem: Republican outreach to minority communities is actually getting harder, not easier.
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The state of the GOP's minority outreach efforts