When doing an after action report on a mission, it is critical to self criticize about what happened when things went wrong. I don’t sugar coat. The Trump campaign was counting on big numbers from the BLEXIT movement and it did not materialize.
In sifting through the wreckage of an attempt to increase black votes for Republican Party candidates we have to have an honest analysis of why it failed. And let’s be honest, it failed miserably. The people leading the effort have to own this failure. They were out front and getting a lot of exposure on TV and radio. Most notably were Candace Owens and Kanye West. They proved to be more than in over their heads for this type of assignment.\
Early return show that President Trump received 9% of the black vote, up from 8% in 2016. Some data analysts have the high watermark at 10%. That wasn’t going to get it done. BLEXIT leaders were promising that anywhere between 20, 25 and even 30% of black voters would vote Republican. Personally, I thought and said publicly that those predictions were crazy talk.
Why? Because what we are talking about is voter behavior. This is what BLEXIT does not understand. It is going to take a lot more than just putting a few celebrities out front to change this monolithic voting for Democrats by black voters that have been going on for nearly 60 years. Now it is ingrained behavior. Democrats simply throw out the red meat of “racism,” reparations for slavery, and more government giveaways. Those are extremely enticing offers. They are addicting. Too much apparently for blacks as a voting block to resist.
Getting over the hump on this requires an in-depth understanding of why black voters continue to pull the lever for candidates who do not represent their best interests. It will take hard work and be painful at times. Democrats talk about income inequality, the wealth gap, access to capital and job creation, and opportunities as being denied to blacks due to systemic racism. I’ll leave all that for another column, but I will say this: these things are real and problematic. I have never heard Candace Owens talk or write an intellectual white paper about black income inequality or the wealth gap or access to capital. Kanye West is incapable of doing so and I for damn sure haven’t heard the Republican Party address this or do more for things like closing failing K-12 public schools or participate in making cities safer for black families. Instead, they watch and comment on it from the suburbs or FOX News. While the Democrat Party has done nothing over the last 60 years to correct this, the Republican Party has failed to exploit this opening.
Trump made an overture in 2015. He asked for black voters to give him a chance. No other GOP Presidential candidate had ever done that in modern history. He did everything he could but got little help from the GOP at state level or from the Republican National Committee. Only under President Donald Trump have things been put in place to show black voters that he would deal with these problems and improve their lives.
Trump created opportunity zones in black urban areas, his economic policies led to the lowest black unemployment rate in recorded history. Black household income increased as a result of Trump’s policies. On the social issue side, Trump finally got criminal justice reform passed that led to the release from prison black people imprisoned for low-level drug charges. He pardoned black boxer Jack Johnson who was convicted of a federal felony for marrying a white woman. Trump’s Department of Education touted choice and charter schools and he made it easier for Historically Black Colleges to get federal dollars. Democrats oppose choice and charter schools that give parents and their kids a lifeline out of poverty. Barack Obama never did any of this, in fact, the first black President had the chance to and he punted, yet still got 95% of the black vote and record turnout. For his effort to improve black life in America, Trump’s black vote percentage went up a measly 1 or 2 percentage points? How could this be?
My recommendation for the BLEXIT movement would have been that the issue of changing black voter behavior was not ripe. They should have left the ambitious predictions alone. Changing behavior takes time. First, you have to win their hearts. That can only happen at ground level. In other words, in the hood and in black churches the center of community and often political life for blacks.
Remember Obama spending a lot of time in Reverend Jeremiah Wright’s church during his political assent? Rev Wright helped validate Obama and churchgoers are reliable voters. Owens and West needed to spend less time in the safe space of attending photo ops in the White House, the safe space of addressing Turning Point USA conferences, the safe space of a FOX News studio or a Sirius XM podcasts where she is speaking before mainly white audiences and she needs to spend more time in black churches at Historically Black Colleges giving speeches and writing op-eds in black papers and magazines. And take surrogates from those areas with you. This stuff is not as sexy as being on FOX News, but she wasn’t reaching black hearts and minds. Blacks do not watch FOX News, listen to Sirius XM Radio or attend Turning Point USA conferences.
The reception for Owens will be chilly at first, especially now that she has been demonized and caricatured by the left. Because of this, black audiences will be skeptical, so she’ll have to remake herself. If she is patient, however, they will warm up to her. Candace Owens is a charismatic, likable figure with a compelling story. Simply telling black voters that the Democrats are taking them for granted is not a compelling argument to change emotional behavior. If you are going to lead people, you have to tell them where you are taking them, how they will get there and how life will be better when they arrive.
Moses did it, Jesus did it, Dr. Martin Luther King did it. They all laid the groundwork first and made sure the issue was ripe, meaning people were ready to be led. I myself would not lead black voters to a Republican Party that hasn’t spent a lot of time courting their vote or addressing the economic or social issues confronting them. This is the heavy lifting required by Owens and the Republican Party before voting behavior change occurs.
Make an emotional argument and don’t tell them to vote Republican. Let black voters figure it out for themselves. And this effort cannot just happen at election time which has been historically the case for the GOP. Black voters are very skeptical when Republicans come around only at election time.
I’m speaking from experience here. I had to get elected to be the Sheriff of Milwaukee County. As a rock-solid conservative, I still had to get black support to win all four of my elections. And I did that. I spent time in black neighborhoods, schools, and churches and was comfortable doing so. Black voters did not always agree with my politics, but they knew where my heart was. I connected at ground level with them and they showed their appreciation with their vote. I didn’t pander to win them over either. Black people can sniff that out like a bloodhound and will feel insulted.
Memo to Candace Owens, BLEXIT, and the Republican Party: this is the model. Do it right and don’t skip steps or take shortcuts.
The monolithic black voting pattern will not occur in seismic proportions. It’s why I laughed at the 25-30% prediction of turnout for Trump. It will change slowly and over time, but only if you reach their hearts before their minds. Remember, post-Reconstruction blacks historically voted Republican. Shame on the GOP, the Party that freed the slaves, for letting it slip away. Now the Democrats have a stranglehold on it.
Sheriff David Clarke Jr. is former Sheriff of Milwaukee Co, Wisconsin, President of AmericasSheriff LLC, Board member of the Crime Research Center, author of the book Cop Under Fire: Beyond Hashtags of Race Crime and Politics for a Better America. To learn more visit www.americassheriff.com
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