At the 2000 Republican convention in Philadelphia, the GOP made a concerted effort to reach out to African American voters. While there were scant black delegates for the television cameras to pan to, there were plenty of black people on stage. So much so that I quipped at the time that I hadn’t seen that many black people on television since “Roots.” Sixteen years later, the Republican Party’s problems with delegates and race have gotten much worse.
I dealt with the race angle of all this in my previous post. If you thought the GOP’s relationship with voters of color was a hot mess before Donald Trump ran a racist, xenophobic and nativist campaign to become its presumptive presidential nominee, then there are no words to describe it now. But that’s the campaign for votes. What happens at the convention involves actual members of the party who were elected to be there. And in Cleveland next month, African American delegates will be in even shorter supply than in the past.
In a scorching op-ed for the New York Times, Brent Staples accused the Republican Party, with its long history of wink-and-nod efforts at stoking racial resentment for political gain, of “dressing up in blackface” at the 2000 Philadelphia convention. Of the 2,066 Republican delegates gathered in the City of Brotherly Love, 4.1 percent — or 85 conventioneers — were African American. But that gathering will now be remembered as the start of the short-lived golden years of black delegates in the GOP.
Actually, it’s more like a blip.
According to a June 1 email sent to an undisclosed list of recipients by Telly Lovelace, the national director for African American initiatives and urban media for the Republican National Committee, so far, only 18 of the 2,472 delegates headed to the Cleveland convention next month will be black. Just 18! Now, we won’t know the final tally for a few more weeks but it is pretty safe to say Cleveland likely won’t have as many African Americans as at other conventions.
For historical perspective, Lovelace’s email helpfully points out the number of African American delegates at the three previous conventions. The 2004 convention in New York City hosted 167 African American delegates. A chart in a 2008 study from the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies shows that was the most ever in terms of raw numbers and percentage (6.7 percent). But four years later, in St. Paul, Minn., the number plummeted to 36 black delegates or 1.5 percent of the total. The 14 delegates at the 1964 convention were just 1 percent of the total, the lowest ever. If the numbers for the 2016 convention hold, the 18 African Americans in Cleveland will be just 0.7 percent of the total delegates.
“The vast majority of states are still in the process submitting delegate slates to the RNC — until all delegations are certified it is premature to report anything about the breakdown of the delegations,” Lovelace told me in a statement. “The RNC is currently working with [historically black colleges and universities] and other groups to ensure people from diverse backgrounds are able to participate during the convention.”
Ever since the Republican Party expanded on President Nixon’s “Southern Strategy” of racial resentment, African Americans and others have been suspicious of or have outright ignored its appeals to them for support. And then came Donald Trump, who makes the GOP’s outreach efforts in 2000 look even more like a sincere effort to build bridges.
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