The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Mia Love: Republicans have failed to bring our message to minorities. It’s hurting the nation.

Members of Congress watch as President Trump delivers his State of the Union speech on Jan. 30. (Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)

Mia Love, a Republican, represents Utah’s 4th Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives.

For too long, conservatives in my party have focused on administering purity tests instead of expanding our audience. And in doing so, we have too often failed to adequately articulate our party’s principles to others, allowing our opponents to define or caricature our principles for us.

We have especially failed to bring our message to, and connect with, women and racial minorities. And we have effectively written off cities as Democratic strongholds. Our nation is poorer for it.

Many on the right claim that some Americans oppose Republicans because of the proliferation of identity politics. But Republicans who accept that some Americans will inevitably vote Democratic simply because of their physical features or where they live are buying into the identity politics they so stridently object to.

As I prepare to leave Congress after a hard-fought election, I am not advocating a Republican version of identity politics. I oppose such tactics because they often strip people of their identity and reduce them to an avatar. As the only black Republican woman in Congress, I know this well. I have often been the target of insults from those who struggle to reconcile what they thought I should be with who I actually am.

If politicians focused on issues important to black women, everyone would benefit, including President Trump's base, says Global Opinions Editor Karen Attiah. (Video: Gillian Brockell/The Washington Post)

This is far too common in American politics. We construct mental cages for people based on societal narratives, and we feel uncomfortable when they escape. When my friend Tim Scott, the only black Republican in the U.S. Senate, celebrated the passage of tax reform, an uninformed troll labeled him a “prop” — even though he was instrumental in crafting and passing the bill. And when I was photographed at the White House as President Trump signed a banking reform package, which included one of my bills, I received similar feedback.

But Republicans should not be so afraid of identity politics that we refuse to seek out the unique experiences that actually do contribute to people’s individual identity.

For example, during my time in Congress, I never understood why I had to fight so hard to make my perspective heard on immigration. My parents left Haitian soil for the United States in the early 1970s. They arrived here with nothing but hope in their hearts and a firm determination to work hard so that their family could enjoy the peace and opportunity that had eluded them in Haiti. They worked incredibly hard and insisted that their family contribute to their communities and society. Thirty-nine years later, we celebrated together as I was elected to Congress.

For my family, the American Dream is a tangible reality, not just a fanciful concept. This gives me a unique perspective that can help facilitate immigration policy that works for everyone. We must invite, not just tolerate, diverse perspectives to the table and ensure that their voices matter.

We must do a better job of connecting with individuals and families that may not traditionally vote Republican. We must listen to their experiences, visit them in their comfort zones and take their priorities to heart. Our policy implementations must be personal — not transactional. And we cannot fall into the trap of thinking that there are Democratic issues and Republican issues.

I believe in policies that protect life at all stages, preserve free markets, promote fiscal responsibility and limit government. There are millions of Americans who believe in these principles. But for them to believe in us, we must first show that we believe in them.

Read more:

Eugene Robinson: President Trump is the master of abhorrent identity politics

Francis Fukuyama: Identity politics is undermining democracy

Kwame Anthony Appiah: People don’t vote for what they want. They vote for who they are.

Carter Eskew: In defense of diversity