“Has the Republican Party made a mistake by nominating Donald Trump?” I asked Michael Steele, former chairman of the Republican National Committee. “No, no. I don’t think so because this is all part of the plan,” he said. A plan that isn’t talked about much. But Steele didn’t hold back in the debut episode of my new podcast “Cape UP.”
Since we taped our conversation, Trump’s unconventional presidential campaign has careened into uncharted territory. He blasted a Gold Star Family. He accused President Obama of being “the founder” of the Islamic State and calls Hillary Clinton, his Democratic Party challenger, the terrorist group’s “MVP.” And his poll numbers have plummeted nationally and in states he needs to win, including Georgia and South Carolina. Still, Steele’s analysis of what has befallen his party and why it is necessary holds true.
“This is all part of the process,” he said. “This has to happen. This confrontation with ourselves.” That confrontation involves the GOP realizing that it has itself to blame for the destructive rise of Trump. “[I]n large measure, we laid down the metrics and pathway for Donald Trump to emerge and to arise the way he did,” Steele said. “He understood the GOP better than the GOP understood itself.” Steele contends that because trust between the party and its base is gone, “[T]his confrontation within the party is something that is long overdue.”
What’s also long overdue is the Republican Party grappling with race. Polls showing Trump with 0 percent support from African Americans in some states served to highlight the problem. The campaign has hired three black outreach strategists, but as Steele told me, the hurdle is higher than that move suggests.
“[The Republican Party] doesn’t have a problem with race. It has a problem with how to address race,” he said. “The underside of that issue is how uncomfortable still, largely because folks don’t know what to do, how to speak, what to say, about black America today. And so it comes off awkward.
“Case in point,” he continued, “when I got elected chairman. I had a member come up to me almost immediately and say after my election as chairman and say….’This so exciting…Now black folks will join the party.’ And my response was, ‘Really?! You think I’m a Pied Piper? Just because you elected a black man chairman black folks are going to wake up and tomorrow morning and go, ‘Oh my God! They elected a black man!’? Let’s join the GOP.’ That sort of thin understanding of what it takes to actually engage the black vote has been probably the Achilles heel of the modern-day Republican Party.”
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