On Tuesday night, Americans caught a glimpse of the Republican Party’s future. Mia Love, from Utah, became the first African-American Republican woman to be elected to Congress. Will Hurd became Texas’ first African-American Republican* congressman since Reconstruction. And Tim Scott, from South Carolina, became the first African-American senator from the South since Reconstruction. He’s also the first to be elected to both the House and Senate.
These historic wins mark a turning point in the Republican Party’s relationship with African Americans. Despite the prevailing narrative, it’s clear that diversity exists and is growing in the GOP. There are early signs that African Americans, tired of being taken for granted, are looking for alternatives to the failed policies of the left. And the Republican message is resonating. We are seeing new faces and new leaders in the GOP. After the election, African-American news sites The Grio and The Root were among the first media outlets to acknowledge the historic wins of Scott and Love. This support is a step in the right direction. African Americans can see that the GOP does not just talk about supporting them, but also has diverse representation in Congress providing solutions to the challenges we face.
That’s not to say that Republicans are blind to the existing disconnect between African Americans and the party. In the 2012 presidential election, Republican nominee Mitt Romney fell short in attracting African-American votes, garnering only 6 percent of their ballots. Simply put, our grass-roots operations — explaining to black Americans how Romney’s policies would help them — were not up to par. Still, even that election showed that some black voters are becoming disenchanted with the left. Their votes for Obama dropped 2 percentage points between 2008 and 2012. And since then, the GOP has increased its outreach to minority communities and created a substantial urban agenda. The results are starting to appear. For example, in Georgia’s 2008 U.S. Senate election, Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss won 4 percent of the African-American vote, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. In this election, the Republican candidate, Sen.-elect David Perdue, received 7 percent. More impressive, Gov. Nathan Deal, a Republican, won 10 percent of the African-American vote.
Of course, even though African-American support for Republicans is growing, the numbers are still low. Republicans have not always effectively communicated their principles, values, and accomplishments with all audiences, especially with African Americans. But after the 2012 elections, the Republican National Committee developed the Growth & Opportunity Project, a report that laid out prescriptions for the party to improve its standing with all Americans. The report noted that the GOP “must recruit more candidates who come from minority communities. But it is not just tone that counts. Policy always matters.”
Certainly, policy is key. In the past, Republicans worked with civil rights leaders to secure for African Americans the right to vote, share public areas, and integrate our school system. But the party has struggled to continue the legacy of those achievements. Now, the environment has shifted. The GOP has three new federal lawmakers who are experienced, qualified, and forceful advocates for opportunity. As mayor of Saratoga Springs, Utah, Love balanced the budget, cut wasteful spending, and left the city with the highest bond rating for a city of its size. Smaller governments equal lower taxes, and every dollar returned to American households helps them improve their lives. Tim Scott has been an advocate for extending the opportunity to succeed to all Americans. His Opportunity Agenda focuses on job creation, school choice, and providing employers with tax credits to increase apprenticeships in America. These policies are important for African Americans, who are overrepresented in the nation’s lowest-performing schools and whose unemployment rate is consistently twice as high as white Americans’. There can be no misunderstanding, now — there are African-American Republicans in positions of power making decisions for the African-American community.
This election helped dispel myths that Republicans are racist, sexist, and out of touch. It showed that the GOP is making strides in the African-American community. Now it’s time for the party to produce results. Republicans have two years to present and pass substantive bills that affect the lives of all Americans, and there are three fresh faces in Congress who will ensure that issues affecting African Americans are not only vocalized, but addressed. Scott, Love, and Hurd are tried and true conservatives. They ran for office with an “R” next to their names because the Republican Party is aligned with their values and principles. Their election will aid the party in attracting more blacks and inspiring a new generation of minority conservatives.
*Correction: Will Hurd is Texas’ first black Republican congressman since Reconstruction. This piece originally stated that he was the first African-American to be elected from any party since that time.