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Image: Larry Elder
Larry Elder sits in his hotel room in San Francisco on July 14, 2021.Nina Riggio / San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images file

Larry Elder's irrelevant campaign speaks volumes about today's GOP

Given the right-wing political commentator's past, some might think he'd make a killing as a candidate in today's GOP. Here's why he's not.


Conservative talk radio host Larry Elder’s long-shot bid for president hasn't gained much traction, to Elder’s dismay. And he’s something of an afterthought as far as the political press is concerned. But I think his political irrelevance helps tell the story of where the Republican Party is with regard to race at this moment in time. 

He’s on the outside looking into a conversation he helped create on the right.

Elder failed to qualify for the first GOP presidential primary debate last month (and has threatened to sue, as a result). But given the party's emphasis on historical whitewashing and denial of systemic racism, one might think this would be Elder’s time to shine.

Since the 1990s, Elder has made a living delivering scathing rebukes of Black culture and Black political figures. He’s reheated Bill Cosby’s "pound cake" speech so many times, it has char on it. And playing this role has raised Elder’s stature — to conservatives — as a finger-wagging moralist. Having grown up in the early 2000s, I still remember witnessing his brief stint as the faux-judge on “Moral Court,” a show in which Elder would award cash prizes to contestants who asked him to iron out their moral dilemmas. 

The point here is, Elder has profited off the “person of color who berates people of color” role. But that’s a crowded lane in today’s Republican Party. And Elder is nowhere near pole position (or poll position, if you will). In fact, multiple candidates running against him for president are making these same arguments with more flair, or more of a political foundation, than he has. 

Vivek Ramaswamy, Nikki Haley and Tim Scott all fit the bill of grifters who, despite their ethnic backgrounds, demean people of color and/or systemic efforts to help them: like inclusive school curricula. They’re all younger than Larry Elder, polling better than he is, and in Scott and Haley’s case, further entrenched than he is in the GOP establishment. 

To me, this shows how Republicans have learned to use people of color and factor them more prominently in GOP politics. (Granted evidence has shown this tactic has its limitations when it comes to actually winning over nonwhite voters.) 

And it doesn’t seem lost on Elder that these kinds of folks appear to be encroaching on his territory. He, for example, has repeatedly accused Ramaswamy of stealing his line about the purported “epidemic of fatherlessness” plaguing Black communities at the first GOP presidential debate. "Verbatim," Elder claimed.

Instead, he’s on the outside looking into a conversation he helped create on the right. 

And as an Elder critic, I must say: This feels a bit like karmic justice.