Ralph Chittams Sr. is something of an anomaly — a Republican in the District, where three out of four registered voters are Democrats. He is also among the estimated 14 percent of African American men who voted for Donald Trump in the U.S. election.
I visited Chittams at his home in Southeast Washington to learn more about his way of thinking.
A native of Manhattan, Chittams came to Washington in 1978 to attend Howard University. He was a registered Democrat back then, having made the choice because “my parents were Democrats.” Ten years later, in 1988, he registered as a Republican.
“The Democrats running D.C. just went too far left and left me behind,” said Chittams, 56. “Debt was rising, schools were failing and everybody was a victim. There was too much reliance on government to fix what people could do for themselves if they took more personal responsibility.”
After earning a degree in political science, Chittams started Black Elephant Consultants. At a meeting of the D.C. Republican Committee before the November presidential election, Chittams predicted that Trump would win with 300 votes in the electoral college.
Trump got 304 when electors gathered last month to formally vote.
Although Trump got relatively few black votes, his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, didn’t get as many as she had hoped. Chittams, like Trump, saw the no-shows as, in effect, votes for Trump.
“If you step back and take a dispassionate look at Trump’s 10-point plan for urban America, you will see that it is transformational,” Chittams said. “If Trump can get 10 percent of his plan passed by the midterm elections and another 15 percent by 2020, he’ll make believers out of African Americans and he will win reelection in a landside.”
Trump’s proposal struck me as implausible, as I wrote on Saturday. He promises to invest $1 trillion for repairing the nation’s infrastructure, “of which the inner cities will be a major beneficiary.” But the money will supposedly come from cuts in climate change spending and savings from cuts in services to immigrants in the country illegally.
On Trump’s campaign website, the 10 promises are followed by a link to the actual plan. But when I clicked on the link, all I got were the same 10 promises. No plan.
“Of course, the devil is in the details,” Chittams conceded.
Then he echoed Trump’s view that blacks had nothing to lose by voting for him. When it came to helping black people, he gave President Barack Obama an “A for talk and an F for action.” After getting blacks hooked on government programs, he said, “Democrats began taking their support for granted.”
He did blame Republicans for ignoring black people, saying the GOP didn’t believe they could ever win the black vote.
Moreover, Chittams said, many black Democrats are getting turned off by liberal elitists. He contended that women’s groups that did not believe in abortion were not welcomed at the Women’s March in Washington on Saturday.
“That left out a lot of black women,” said Chittams, who is also an ordained minister.
He also cited the suffrage movement in the 19th and 20th centuries, in which black women had not always been welcomed. “Those wounds still haven’t been healed,” he said. “The words of Sojourner Truth, ‘Ain’t I a woman?’ still resonates with black women.”
I noted that Republicans had a bigger race problem. For instance, racist “dog whistling” is now standard operating procedure for mobilizing the conservative white vote.
“The reason black people think white Republicans are racist is because they’ve never met any,” Chittams said. “If they got to know them personally, they’d come away with an entirely different view.”
He said that every black person who has been invited to meet with President Trump has come away impressed.
“Not saying they trust him, but they are willing to give him a chance.”
Not everyone is so forgiving.
In a recent essay posted on his website, Chittams wrote, “I have been subject to the full panoply of insults from the Black community. I have been called all of the following, and a few more: Coon, Uncle Tom, Sellout, Lap Dog, and House N-gga. My ‘Black Card’ has been revoked.”
At a community meeting in the District not long ago, Chittams offered his suggestions for addressing the city’s social ills. He said children should have access to whatever kind of schooling that prepares them for the future — meaning school choice. He said churches should become more involved in reducing poverty and crime, and the role of government reduced. More emphasis should be placed on personal responsibility and accountability, he said.
About 40 attendees, nearly all black, nodded in agreement. Chittams had, in fact, echoed some long-standing beliefs among many African Americans. But in discussions after the meeting, Chittams “came out of the closet,” as he put it.
“I let people know that I was a Republican,” he said. “Then it was like everything I had said became garbage.”
To read previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/milloy.