A number of Republicans I know think African Americans vote according to race. They attribute the record black turnout for President Obama’s reelection in 2012 to his being black. They also have the mistaken belief that GOP presidential frontrunner Ben Carson could get beaucoup black votes in a national election because he’s a brother.
Rupert Murdoch was so caught up with that possibility that he recently tweeted, “What about a real black president who can properly address the racial divide?” Hello, Republicans, do the names Herman Cain and Alan Keyes ring a bell? If all a Republican needed to get beaucoup black votes were black skin, Cain and Keyes’ presidential campaigns wouldn’t have failed so miserably.
The issues have always been most important to black voters. Once faithful members of the Great Emancipator’s party, blacks abandoned it in droves after the Republicans instituted their vaunted Southern strategy to attract Dixiecrats and other white voters who thought the civil rights movement was moving too fast.
The Southern strategy worked so well that decades later the GOP still has a virtual lock on the once solidly Democratic South. But in gaining that advantage it has lost black voters who long ago stopped connecting Abraham Lincoln to the GOP. It’s gotten so bad that blacks who identify as Republicans are often called house Negroes, a derisive term that described slaves who fawned over their masters.
Black political support isn’t about skin color; it’s about the issues. Colin Powell, who has made his support for affirmative action clear, would likely get a sizable portion of the black vote if he ran for president as a Republican. Carson won’t because he believes race-based remedies are never right.
Because the Republican Party and black voters typically disagree on education, health care, jobs, war, and other issues, many black voters automatically dismiss Republican candidates. In fact, University of Cincinnati researchers recently confirmed that the Republican label can hurt black candidates. Voters in 28 all-black Ohio precincts were mailed postcards with the photos of black candidates. But some cards included the words "Endorsed by the Republican Party." The researchers found that black voters who got a card without the Republican identifier were nearly three times more likely to vote for the candidate.
Carson, a Seventh-Day Adventist, may gain some support among African American Christians who share his views on social issues such as abortion and gay marriage. But his right-wing positions on other issues will keep him from getting anything close to Obama-like support. It would be a miscalculation for Republicans to choose him as their nominee thinking that pipe dream could come true.
Harold Jackson is editorial page editor for The Inquirer.