On CNN, Morgan State media and political science professor Jason Johnson and Princeton history professor Julian Zelizer discuss the relationship between Donald Trump and African-American voters.
Republican National Committee
Telly Lovelace is not stepping into an easy job. Not that it’s ever been easy to work on African-American outreach for the Republican National Committee, but things haven’t been this bad for the Republican Party since Kanye West called out George W. Bush. Likely GOP nominee Donald Trump is an anathema to African-American voters, the entire black outreach staff quit over the last six months, and the Republican National Committee has cut its outreach offices from 12 to seven since 2015. Taking over black outreach in 2016 for the Republican Party is like being tapped as the interim coach on a losing team: You’re set up to fail. However, none of this deters Telly Lovelace as the new head of African-American outreach for the RNC. He’s got a plan, goals and passion for the GOP. The question is does he have enough time to make it all work?
Telly Lovelace is the epitome of the Generation X black Republican. His first campaign was 1990, when, at the age of 14, he was knocking on doors and handing out campaign literature for Maurice Turner’s mayoral campaign. One of the few African Americans to ever be chief of police in Washington, D.C., Turner ran as a law-and-order Republican in the wake of Marion Barry’s drug conviction.
“Even when I was in high school, black people didn’t really understand being a Republican,” Lovelace says. “My teacher told me, ‘Really, Telly, baby, are you sure?,’ when I handed my voter registration form to my teacher and I had marked Republican.”
Lovelace went on to the University of Maryland, and after he graduated, worked for corporations like eBay and on various Republican campaigns. He was most recently at IR+Media when he got the call from RNC Chair Reince Priebus.
“This is a crisis,” Lovelace admits.
Kristal Quarker Hartsfield, former head of African-American outreach, had just left the job in mid-March, leaving the Republican Party with zero black people to manage outreach in an election year. She’d been preceded by the three other members of GOP African-American outreach and the party was facing a PR nightmare in addition to a structural one. That made Lovelace a top choice. While he certainly has his critics, Lovelace is known around Washington, D.C., as a “fixer.” GOP insiders believe that desperate party Chair Priebus knew that Lovelace could get in, hold down the fort and get out after the November elections.
“My goal here in coming into this position is to build off of the work that they [previous RNC African-American staff] accomplished. I thrive off of campaigns,” Lovelace says when asked if taking over the work of four staffers was a no-win situation. “If we can get more African Americans to listen to the Republican Party on platform and issues; Maybe [black voters will realize] the Republican Party isn’t as bad as the media and other folks say they are.”
In recent years, the majority of African-American voters haven’t simply rejected Republican presidential candidates out of party loyalty to Democrats, there are a few hot-button issues driving them away that as new head of Republican African-American outreach, Lovelace would be responsible for addressing. One such issue is the spread of voter-ID laws, especially since the Supreme Court stripped Section 5 from the Voting Rights Act. Lovelace is refreshingly honest about these laws and how to address them.
He cites Shamed Dogan, a black Republican in the Missouri state Legislature, who has proposed free state IDs, as an example of how African-American concerns about voter ID can be addressed, while still pushing the issue.
Lovelace’s goals are pretty extensive. He wants to increase the African-American vote for the Republican presidential nominee to George W. Bush level numbers (9-11 percent) instead of the recent John McCain and Mitt Romney numbers (4-5 percent). He plans to work with local African-American candidates, and he wants to expand the Republican Leadership Initiative to move more African Americans up within the national party to positions like communications director and polling. He wants to create a comprehensive list of all African-American Republican elected officials across the United States, something that, shockingly, has never been done before. All of this sounds pretty ambitious for a guy who admits that he’s only working for the Republican Party for 214 days, and has every intention of leaving right after the November election to continue his work at the IR+Media PR firm.
“I feel like I’ve got the weight of my people on my back. I can’t do all this by myself,” says Lovelace. “I want them [the GOP] to be more competitive because that will make the Democrats get on their A-game—which helps African Americans. Democrats take African Americans for granted and the GOP has ignored us.”
If Telly Lovelace’s goal is to make the Republican Party a viable competitive option for African-American voters this fall, he certainly has the skills, experience and passion to make that happen. One can only hope, for the sake of black voters and a healthy democracy in general, that after several months of losing staff and cutting costs, the RNC will actually give him the kind of structural and financial backing necessary to make his goals a reality.
This article originally appeared online at The Root.
Something unprecedented is happening at the Republican National Committee, and it’s a huge blow to the GOP’s African-American-outreach programs.
The RNC is losing its black staffers. All of them.
In the last six months, all four of the top black staff members at the RNC have left. These resignations have sparked every rumor from Donald Trump is running African Americans out of the party to the GOP has given up on the 2016 election. But the truth is a bit more complicated than the rumors, even though the final outcomes may ultimately be the same: The Republican Party is facing one of the most crucial elections in modern history, and the guiding voices within the party on African-American issues won’t be there to help.
After losing the presidential election in 2012, the Republican Party released its “Growth and Opportunity Project,” which was popularly known as the GOP “autopsy.” The 2013 report acknowledged two things: First, that the Republican Party was doing great during midterm elections and consistently losing in general elections; and second, if the GOP did not expand its demographic base beyond white people and Southern states, it would never win another presidential election.
To address this, it hired a group of young, dynamic and ambitious African-American Republicans who were tasked with not just changing the party’s image but also helping to foster candidates and policy on the ground for black voters.
In October 2013, the RNC hired Tara Wall, a former Mitt Romney media adviser, and Orlando Watson, a former Rand Paul staffer, and they were tasked specifically with reaching out to African-American media outlets to share the GOP message. The GOP later added Raffi Williams (son of Fox News political commentator Juan Williams) and Kristal Quarker Hartsfield, rounding out its African-American political A-team.
Given where the Republican Party was with black voters in 2012, the team was, by many accounts, successful. African-American turnout for Republican gubernatorial candidates like John Kasich, in Ohio, and Chris Christie, in New Jersey, increased in the 2014 midterms. Williams’ work got him named one of the 50 Most Beautiful by The Hill magazine in 2014. Quarker Hartsfield helped launch college Republican organizations at HBCUs across the country. And Wall and Watson became fixtures at the National Association of Black Journalists conventions, repairing years of frosty relations between black press outlets and the Republican Party. In fact, in many cases these four African-American RNC staffers were better-regarded than some of the media flacks in the Obama administration.
So What Happened?
The Republican Party is facing its first major election since the Republican autopsy, a chance to see if any of the programs implemented over the last three years will actually work on the big stage. So why would everyone leave now? Most political resignations come after an election season. The entire black staff of the RNC leaving during an election is the political equivalent of spending three years working on an album and then backing out of the promotional tour at the last minute.
Individually, the staffers’ publicly stated reasons are legitimate. Wall left last November to concentrate on other projects, Watson left in March to go to graduate school, Williams left for a job in the private sector and Quarker Hartsfield will likely join the staff of Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan. But it’s obvious to outside observers and sources within the RNC that something is going on.
First, the Republican Party seemed completely unprepared for these departures and “botched” the messaging, according to one insider. Rather than release a statement quelling rumors that this was a mass exodus, most party leadership has been mum on the issue. The silence from GOP leadership became so deafening that Williams took the initiative to give a statement to the Huffington Post to dispel any suggestion that his resignation was part of a larger staff shake-up.
While no one will go on record, the sentiment from one Republican insider is that minority staffers are concerned that they will become “race insurance” for the Republican Party during a Trump presidential run, potentially ruining their political opportunities down the road.
This is more about career than ideology; Trump has ruffled a lot of GOP feathers across the nation, and getting far away from him and a potentially ugly national campaign is a smart career move. This concern is especially felt in the Republican Latino-outreach program, where there is speculation that a similar exodus of talent is coming.
The other reason behind the departure of many of these staffers is party chair Reince Priebus. Priebus, after having been one of the longest-serving chairs in GOP history, has stated that he will not run to be the party’s leader again in 2017. That means that everyone who was hired by him, including the African-American-outreach team, might be out of a job, whether Republicans win the White House or not. One Republican insider familiar with the staff changes suggested that it’s the combination of things that have led to these moves: “If Trump weren’t the nominee or Reince wasn’t leaving, it would be different. But both?”
Last week the Republican Party announced that Telly Lovelace had been hired to do the jobs of both Watson and Quarker Hartsfield. He will assist Lucas Boyce (hired last fall to replace Wall) in trying to usher the Republican black-outreach program through this election season. But that’s still only two staffers to replace four, and some question whether they’ll have enough time to be effective this election season.
“Nothing is going to change,” says Raynard Jackson, a longtime African-American Republican consultant who was once Lovelace’s boss. “They [black GOP staffers] are in over their heads.”
Others suggested that Lovelace’s position is really just a “six-month job,” since he and Boyce will likely run minority outreach for the November election and will be replaced by the new party chair in early 2017.
In the end, the Republican Party is in a sad and precarious position. Trump has alienated and turned off African-American voters after Priebus spent years trying to court them. Caught in the middle were four African-American staffers who likely saw the writing on the wall and realized that one way or another, it was time to jump ship from the national Republican Party. Which is a shame because after this exodus, the GOP may be spending another 40 years wandering in the wilderness for black votes.
This article originally appeared online at The Root.
Hiram College Professor Jason Johnson joined a roundtable discussion on GOP outreach to minorities for The Sound of Ideas on Ohio Public Radio.
Republicans say Democrat-leaning minorities ought to give the GOP a second look and they’re devising national strategies to make that happen. Republicans say Democrats have failed to improve the lot of low-income minorities and preside over failing urban schools by opposing school choice. What are the chances those arguments will resonate with the black and Hispanic communities in Ohio and beyond? Join Mike McIntyre for discussion Monday at 9:00 on The Sound of Ideas.
Hiram College professor discussed Republican outreach to African-American voters on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington.