The Republican Party’s relationship with black voters has been as cold as ice for decades. No GOP presidential candidate has won the black vote since 1965, when the Voting Rights Act made it illegal to put barriers in place aimed at suppressing the black vote.
But Tim Scott (R-S.C.) — the only black Republican in the Senate — believes that the Republican Party has the ability to change that. However, the likelihood of black Americans believing the lawmaker’s claims in this current political climate are not likely.
Scott recently made headlines after opposing Thomas Farr, a lawyer President Trump nominated to be a U.S. district judge despite accusations that he was in favor of measures to suppress the votes of black Americans.
After the Justice Department released a memo about Farr’s involvement in campaigns for Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) in which postcards were sent to black voters with the hope of intimidating them from voting, Scott released a statement saying:
“I am ready and willing to support strong candidates for our judicial vacancies that do not have lingering concerns about issues that could affect their decision-making process as a federal judge, and I am proud that Senate Republicans have confirmed judges at a historical rate over the past two years."
Scott expanded on those thoughts Thursday in a letter to the editor in the Wall Street Journal, arguing that eradicating racism should be a major priority for Americans. He said:
“Unfortunately, there are those in this country who see racism in everything, and they are countered by those who believe racism no longer exists in any substantive way. While our nation has made significant progress over the past 50 years, there is no doubt we still have work left to do.”
But there seems to be little confidence that Scott’s party can be a leader in the fight against racism — including from some within the GOP. Rep. Mia Love (R-Utah) — the only black Republican woman to be elected to Congress — has arguably attracted more attention in the month after the midterm elections than she did in the entire year before. That is because after losing her reelection campaign, the daughter of Haitian immigrants blasted Trump for his racist rhetoric and the GOP as a whole for its disinterest in advancing the lives of black Americans. Responding to Trump’s rubbing Love’s loss in her face, she said in her concession speech:
This election experience and these comments shines a spotlight on the problems Washington politicians have with minorities and black Americans -- it’s transactional, it’s not personal.
You see, we feel like politicians claim they know what’s best for us from a safe distance, yet they’re never willing to take us home. Because Republicans never take minority communities into their home and citizens into their homes and into their hearts, they stay with Democrats and bureaucrats in Washington because they do take them home -- or at least make them feel like they have a home.
Scott, not directly addressing Love’s comments, which were widely circulated, acknowledged that the GOP has work to do when it comes to solving America’s problems related to race. He wrote:
“Regardless of the obvious issues the Democratic Party has on race, is that the Republican Party must strive to do better. We can build on the momentum of opportunity zones and criminal-justice reform to show we are serious about tackling real issues facing people of color. I know conservative solutions can transform lives, but if folks don’t trust us, implementing those solutions becomes impossible.”
“We must not seek to sow the seeds of discord, but rather embrace the power of unity. Simply put, if the Senate votes on a candidate that doesn’t move us in that direction, I will not support him or her. Our country deserves better.”
But the challenge for Scott, as he probably knows, is that the GOP’s most influential voice is a man who many Americans — and most black Americans — believe is racist. The lawmaker himself has tried, with little success, to educate Trump on the historical challenges that black people in America face, but if Trump has grasped any of Scott’s words, he hasn’t convinced black voters of such. Black Americans are one of the groups that disapprove of Trump’s presidency the most, in part because of his attacks on NFL players protesting racism, his profane comments about the countries from which black immigrants hail and his affirming words toward the white nationalists fighting for the preservation of Confederate monuments honoring men who fought to keep black people enslaved.
Scott won some praise for blocking Farr’s ascension to the bench, but the fact that people like Farr continue to make it so far probably affirms black Americans' belief that the GOP is not sensitive to the issues concerning them most. If the Republican Party is capable of implementing the solutions to the problems black Americans address most, as Scott suggests, he has his work cut out when it comes to convincing them.