Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney’s recent statement, “I’m not concerned about the very poor….We have a safety net…. If it needs repair, I’ll fix it,” has caused once again considerable debate about poverty in America. But for millions of impoverished Black Americans the focus should be on encouraging education, self-empowerment and economic development as a means of getting out of poverty rather than waiting on some non-caring presidential candidate to patch a gaping hole in the so-called poverty-prevention safety net.
In a democracy all citizens should have the right to run for President. Of course qualifications and experience are factors that voters should weigh when making a decision about who to vote for and to support. For over 45 million Black Americans, the 2012 elections are extremely important. We cannot afford to sit on the sidelines and to take the November 2012 elections for granted. I keep emphasizing that it is counterproductive for Black people in the United States to be cynical or non-involved in the national political debate concerning the issues that affect the quality of life in the Black community across the nation.
Mitt Romney’s confession did more than expose his seemingly insensitivity toward the poor. It revealed Romney’s comfort with a certain percentage of the population that will according to his logic always remain in poverty in need of a safety net. Romney rhetorically joined the likes of Fox News commentator Bill O’Reilly who condescendingly reminded a national television audience that in the Bible it says, “The poor will always be with us.” African Americans do not always have to be poor! Again, what Romney said or what O’Rielly said should not come as a shock. Those statements just remind us that if we do not get ourselves up out of poverty, there will be no others that we should depend on to change the situation of poverty that too many continue to face in our communities.
Noted scholar and author Earl Ofari Hutchinson raised an appropriate question with respect to the absence of Black Americans who have some noticeable role in the Romney presidential campaign staff or support. Hutchinson observed, “The scorecard then reads like this: Gingrich, Santorum and Paul, all have asked for and gotten endorsements and support from African Americans. There is no record or evidence that the supposed more moderate Romney has asked for or gotten any Black support or even taken a photo-op with some dutiful Blacks. The question that will loom even larger as Romney closes in on the GOP nomination is. Where are Romney’s Blacks?”
Romney’s comments on poverty, therefore, were not a mere slip of a politicians tongue during the heat of a tense campaign. He is not in touch with the reality that most Americans have to endure in 2012. And in particular, Romney is so far out of the loop of reality when it comes to Black Americans’ state of existence, that it is cause for serious concern. The fact is for Black children and youth the poverty rate is nearly 40 percent as a direct of the systematic underdevelopment of the African-American community during the last 50 years. Too many African Americans live in poverty today at a rate greater than one out of every four persons. Of course our economic and social predicament is not the result of statements by Mitt Romney. The point here is, however, that for the vast majority of Black people in America and throughout the African world, the candidacy of Romney for President raises serious implications about his stated sense of inclusion and of ‘caring’ and empathy for poor people in general and for poor Black people specifically.
Regardless of who emerges as the Republican nominee, Black Americans have to take a proactive responsibility to ensure the largest voter turnout in American history come this November. To all of the “playa haters” some of whom are white and Black who are trying to seduce Black people into the self-destructive lethargy of not voting, copping out and non-civic engagement: “We will not be put asleep. We will remain wide awake. We are going to mobilize voter participation in record numbers in the face of voter repression in more than 30 states across the nation.”
Please do not underestimate the power and the importance of every vote this year. We have to join with others who share our interests for a better future for ourselves and for all people. The worst form of oppression is self-destruction and the fear of liberation. Mitt Romney has made clear where he stands. Where do you stand? How will you vote? — (NNPA)
Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis Jr. is president of the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network and Education Online Services Corporation and can be reached at www.HSAN.org.
Political conventions are supposed to be the place where candidates shore up the base while reaching out over the airwaves to appeal to the independents and the fence sitters.
But for any politically active potential voter paying even cursory attention for the past two weeks, I don’t see how there can be many undecideds left in the country.
Last week’s Republican National Convention in Tampa was a full-on Obama hate fest, with enough snark and ridicule to last several administrations. If there’s one thing you took from that weeklong spectacle, it’s that those folks really, really dislike the president on a gut level. They hate him, they hate his wife, and they hate everything he’s done since taking office.
Not that there isn’t room for criticism in Obama’s policies, because there is. You can certainly differ with the man’s agenda, or take issue with his methods, without despising him personally or disrespecting the office.
You didn’t see much of that last week, though. The GOP reaction to President Obama is a visceral one — an anger that comes from deep within, and probably has little to do with the man’s policies.
That anger, though, was not reserved for the president alone. Women, gays, immigrants, and ethnic minorities got a taste of what life would be like under a Romney presidency, if only through the fact that so few minorities were visible at the convention.
Contrast that with the diversity on display at the Democratic National convention this week in Charlotte, and the subtle coding of GOP rhetoric becomes clearer. Not only was there a plethora of strong women, Black and brown skinned speakers and delegates, and a significant gay contingent, those groups were encouraged to stand proudly out front.
It’s as if convention organizers had conspired to show America just how progressive, or regressive, their parties can be. Several Republicans noticed, too, and some took to social media to express their derision. One GOP pundit tweeted a sneeringly offensive comment about the podium in Charlotte looking like a scene from the play, “The Vagina Monologues,” because of the number of women represented.
There were other nasty tweets and blog posts, seething about the Democrats’ ability to draw strength from their diversity, as though it really doesn’t matter if everyday Americans see a political party that looks like them.
Note to Republicans: it matters.
America is getting less and less white every year, and most experts estimate that white folks could find themselves a statistical minority in a few short years. If they lose this election, the GOP fade into irrelevance as the good old boys network slowly dies off, leaving the party without its traditional base of rich old white men.
The Democrats, for their part, went out of their way to show up the Republicans, and did so in grand fashion. San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, fairly unknown prior to this week, wowed the crowd with his personal story of the immigrant experience, and in doing so blew the GOP’s favorite Hispanic Marco Rubio out of the water.
First lady Michelle Obama reminded Americans why they like her husband, and why she loves him. Her affection for her spouse was evident, and even GOP talking heads had to admit that she has transformed herself into quite a political force in her own right.
Even Sandra Fluke, the Georgetown law student who was called nasty names by the right for her principled stance on contraceptives, made mincemeat of her former detractors in a well-received speech that belied her status as a political amateur.
But if anyone stole the show from the president, even for one night, it was former president Bill Clinton. Looking strong and fit, Ol’ Bubba recreated his magic spell for the better part of an hour, whipping the crowd into a frenzy with his trademark combination of masterful delivery and boyish charm. Clinton laid out the case for Obama’s reelection while throwing left hooks at Romney and Paul Ryan that couldn’t miss.
Following Clinton’s brilliant oratory, President Obama took the stage briefly to walk Clinton off. The crowd went completely nuts. The two alpha male rock stars embraced warmly and strode offstage while the audience whooped, cried and blubbered as if they’d seen a holy vision.
Sure, I’m biased, but I’m not a ride-or-die zealot. I see the flaws and blemishes in the Democrat way of governing, but I’ve decided I’ll go with the folks who mean well, rather than folks who are just plain mean.
Because if you’re still undecided at this stage, those are your two choices.
Daryl Gale is the Philadelphia Tribune's city editor.
Gearing up for what is expected to be an ugly battle for the White House, the Obama campaign this week rolled out a Philadelphia “Truth Team” to counter “scurrilous Republican attacks.”
“This is a team of people from across the nation to make sure that people know the truth about what the president has done while in office, and also to respond to anticipated and expected scurrilous Republican attacks,” said Mayor Michael Nutter, one of six local elected officials who announced the launch of the local “Truth Team” Thursday at city hall. “We remain committed to insuring that our constituents know the truth. That would be t-r-u-t-h, clearly a word that the Republican Party and Republican candidates have difficulty spelling and saying on their own.”
Similar teams were put in place across Pennsylvania and the nation.
Members of the Philadelphia team were: Nutter, State Rep. Babette Josephs, District Attorney Seth Williams, state Sen. Anthony Williams, city Controller Alan Butkovitz and city Councilwoman Cindy Bass.
While there is a great deal of uncertainty as to who the Republican nominee will be heading into November, the campaign is likely to get rougher as the GOP fumbles to rally behind one candidate and the focus shifts to that nominee and President Barack Obama.
“We’ve seen these attacks already and know they will be coming soon to Pennsylvania,” Nutter said.
The Republican contest has narrowed, it seems, to three potential nominees: former Massachusetts governor, Mitt Romney; former speaker of the U.S. House, Newt Gingrich and former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania Rick Santorum.
Nutter took a jab at two out of three.
“Mitt Romney will literally say anything to win, distort the president’s record and his own at the same time,” said the mayor. “[Santorum] remains clearly out of step with the needs of most Americans. Pennsylvania voters clearly rejected him, soundly, when his name was last on the ballot.”
In addition to the team, the campaign unveiled three websites designed to respond to Republican attacks: KeepingHisWord.com, AttackWatch.com and KeepingGOPHosnest.com. All three are intended to serve as quick, comprehensive resources to help set the record straight. The websites contain videos and information on the president’s record, and fact checks on Republican claims about the president and themselves.
The sites also contain tools for sharing materials via Facebook, Twitter and email. The goal, said a campaign release, is to ensure that “grassroots supporters can take ownership of the campaign and share the facts with the undecided voters in their lives.”
More than a million people took action as part in similar effort called “Fight the Smears” during the 2008 campaign. The goal of the Truth Team is to double that number, reaching two million grassroots supporters.
Author and radio personality Michael Baisden, host of the syndicated "Michael Baisden Show," airing weekdays, 3-7 p.m. on 105.3 WDAS-FM, did a superb job of covering the 2008 Presidential Election, and is equally committed to getting out the vote in 2012.
As President Obama prepares for his second debate with Republican candidate Mitt Romney, Baisden will host an exclusive Presidential Debate watch party tonight. The free event will be held 7-11 p.m. in the new "state-of-the-art" auditorium at Universal Audenried Charter High School, 3301 Tasker St.. Access is first come, first served but 30 WDAS listeners will be granted VIP seating by listening to 105.3 WDAS-FM for a chance to win. During Friday's broadcast, Baisden said that guests will receive copies of his books "The Maintenance Man" and "Men Cry in the Dark."
Baisden, who held a watch party for the first Presidential Debate on Oct. 3 at the Hippodrome in Richmond, Va., later said to CNN, "in short, this was a better debate for Romney than for Obama. Let's hope that by the time Round 2 rolls around, the candidates will have gotten beyond their opening night jitters, beyond the mysteries of the format and being overprogrammed by their coaches."
As America goes to the polls on November 6, Baisden will host an Election 2012 watch party at Morgan State University — Murphy Fine Arts Center, 2201 Argonne Drive in Baltimore, Md. Doors open at 6 p.m.
For more information on the Philadelphia Presidential Debate watch party, visit www.wdasfm.com.
Dear Mr. President:
As a fan and supporter, I have watched your maturation from a hungry young state senator to the undisputed leader of the free world with no small measure of pride and admiration.
Along with millions of other fans, I readied for Wednesday night’s debate with eager anticipation. I had the beer on ice and a big bag of Doritos, and settled on the couch in front of the big screen ready to watch a smackdown of epic proportions.
And it is because of my great respect for you as a leader, as a critical thinker, and as a man, that I feel compelled to ask you the following question concerning your debate performance:
What the hell happened?
You, sir, were owned. And worse, owned by a guy whose every sentence was based on lies and exaggerations. You allowed him to answer every question with a big fat whopper, and never once called him on it.
You let him get away with telling the American public that he would not lower taxes on the rich, a lie so blatant it defies his own campaign rhetoric. You stood there looking down at your notes while he promised to save Medicare, when his plan calls for making it a voucher system that would leave Grandma to decide between buying her medications or buying groceries.
Even though the debate was specifically on domestic policy, you never once mentioned Romney’s recent write off of 47 percent of the American people as lazy, entitlement junkies who won’t take responsibility for their own lives. You didn’t bring up the auto bailout, which saved thousands of jobs and the entire U.S. auto industry, which your opponent famously said should be allowed to die. You let him jabber on about banking regulations while you remained silent about his sending his own money on vacation in the Cayman Islands. You even allowed him to talk about tax fairness without mentioning his own reluctance to release his tax returns.
In short, sir, and with all due respect — you suddenly became Clint Eastwood’s empty chair.
Where was the Obama we’ve all come to know and love? The passionate firebrand who wears his heart on his sleeve, the brilliant orator who commands the stage like no other before him, the consummate communicator who connects at a personal level with everyone from infants to World War II veterans?
I kept waiting for that guy to show up, but he never did. I screamed at the television, arms flailing and Doritos flying in every direction. I begged you to throw punches, pleaded with you to wipe that smirk off his lying face — but you just stood there, staring down at your notes.
I suspect your debate prep team, who should be fired immediately, warned you repeatedly not to appear as The Angry Black Man, as some conservative pundits have labeled you. They probably told you to remain stoic, to not show emotion and to ignore Romney’s potshots.
Your team failed to prepare you for the one thing they should have known would happen: Romney’s lies. You seemed flummoxed from the first time Plastic Man said his tax plan wouldn’t hurt the middle class, and wasn’t a 5 trillion dollar kiss to the super-rich. It was, of course, a contemptible lie, but you seemed unprepared for it — unprepared even to call it out as a falsehood.
It was his Etch-A-Sketch moment — when he would simply shake everything upside down and start fresh, categorically denying every campaign promise and talking point he made for the past 18 months. His campaign said in early summer that it would happen, and yet you seemed sandbagged by it.
Now, all that is water under the bridge. You have another debate with Plastic Man on Oct. 16 at Hofstra University. It’s a town hall format, perfect for your style and ability to connect with an audience.
Don’t make the same mistake twice. Ignore that “Angry Black Man” nonsense, and as soon as Romney gives you an opening like he did in Denver, verbally slap him upside the head. You want to have some fun with it? Yell, “You lie!” in the middle of his speech.
Right before he went on stage for the famous 1960 Nixon–Kennedy presidential debate, JFK got a short pep talk from his brother, Bobby, who took his candidate by the arm and whispered, “Kick him in the [groin].”
Kennedy, as history proved, did just that. I just wish someone had given you the same advice Wednesday night in Denver.
Daryl Gale is the Philadelphia Tribune's city editor.
TAMPA, Fla. — Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney finished the GOP’s 40th Republican National Convention yesterday by giving his vision for America to the American public and the more than 5,000 delegates in Tampa.
Dr. Jason Johnson is an African-American professor of political science and communications at Hiram College in Ohio. Johnson, who also is a contributing writer for the Politics365 website, attended this year’s GOP convention and said Romney and Ryan’s speeches played well to the GOP party faithful, but he’s not sure if it swayed independents and African-Americans enough to swing the election for Romney.
“I don’t think Mitt Romney is going to do any better with Black people than [Arizona U.S. Sen.] John McCain [in the 2008 general election],” Johnson said. “He [Romney] may go up another percentage point, but he will not break five [percent of the nationwide African-American vote] and that is what he is looking at. He is looking at a situation where he would need to depress turnout for Obama, keep his turnout high, and keep a lot of people from registering to vote if Romney actually has a chance to win the election. Those are three clearly complicated things. They can be accomplished — but they would sort of require a perfect storm for Mitt Romney.”
Finding African-American voting delegates and alternative delegates at this year’s convention was difficult.
The Republican National Convention Press Office tells The Tribune the party does not breakdown delegates by race, so they are not able to provide racial breakdown numbers. This year, 2,286 voting delegates and 2,125 alternative delegates attended the Convention.
Time Magazine’s Swampland website reports that just 46 African-American delegates were at this year’s convention, according to the Washington, D.C.-based Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies and the Atlanta Journal Constitution. The number of African-American delegates was at its highest at 167 in 2004, 16.7 percent of the overall total.
In the delegations representing the Delaware Valley (Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware), New Jersey had the largest number of African-American and minority delegates with five. N.J. GOP Party spokesman Douglass Mayer said they are voting delegates Aubrey Fenton, Mt. Laurel; Keith Walker, Camden; Ronald Perry, Rahway; Harold Edwards Sr,, Newark; and alternate delegate Evern Ford, Woodstown.
Pennsylvania’s delegation has two African-Americans and one Asian as part of the delegation. Philadelphians Lewis Harris, chairman of the Philadelphia Republicans of Color, and Calvin Tucker, Republican 22nd Ward leader, were elected delegates and had a vote on the floor.
Long-time Pennsylvania Republican Renee Amoore attended the convention in her role as party vice chairwoman. City Councilman David Oh attended as a non-voting alternative delegate appointed by Pennsylvania GOP Chairman Rob Gleason.
Delaware GOP Chairman John Sigler said grassroots activist Mark Parks of Bear, Del. is the lone African-American in his delegation. Parks is an alternate delegate. Delaware had 17 voting delegates and 14 alternate delegates.
The African-American delegates interviewed say they share a deep pride in the 2008 historic election of the nation’s first African-American president but they feel the Romney/Ryan ticket is the best shot for future economic prosperity for everyone.
“Historically, I was proud that Barack Obama became the president [in 2008],” said Tucker, who is also co-chair of the Philadelphia Black Republican Council. “I didn’t vote for him. I didn’t support him…Just like a lot of presidents they make significant missteps and they do good things. On the average, (Obama’s) missteps have been things that haven’t advanced our cause as an African-American group.
Dr. C.T. Wright, who was president of Cheyney University from 1982-85, attended the convention along with his wife, Mary. Wright was an elected alternative delegate from Arizona, and the only African-Americans among that delegation’s 29 delegates and 28 alternative delegates.
“I did not support Obama four years ago, and one reason is that Arizona U.S. Sen. John McCain was running,” Wright said. “I really admire President Obama, and he has some great policies as well…the thing I am disappointed with in Barack Obama is the fact that he has not been as successful in bringing this country together. We need some leadership to bring this country together. “
Wright doesn’t support the Obama’s position on same-sex marriage and abortion. He says Romney will win Arizona, but he would not predict whether the Romney/Ryan ticket will win on election day.
Rachel Kemp is an African-American female delegate from Boston who attended her first convention. She was also chair of the government reform subcommittee for the party’s platform committee. She believes the Romney/Ryan ticket must stress job creation in order to win the White House.
“Everyone is thinking about jobs and within the African-American community the unemployment rates have been double digit,” Kemp said. “We need to talk about how we’re put the infrastructure back in place so the public knows they are not being kept out of the equation.
“ I’m an American first,” Kemp continued. “I’m not an African-American or a Black American—I’m an American first. I need to think what is best for this country. I don’t think he (Obama) was necessarily prepared to become President of the United States and it was that experience that was lacking.
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett, chairman of the Pennsylvania delegation to the convention, said minorities should strongly consider looking at voting for the Romney/Ryan ticket this year.
“The economy that we have seen and the lack of growth in the economy over the last four years has affected, more so, people in the minority communities than anywhere else and they should be looking for a change,” Corbett said. “We’re going to try and present that change to them.”
In 1996, Republican Bob Dole received 12 percent of the African-American vote to Democrat Bill Clinton’s 82 percent. In 2000, George W. Bush received nine percent of the African-American vote to Vice President Al Gore’s 90 percent. In 2004, then President Bush received 11 percent of the African-American vote. And in 2008, John McCain received four percent of the African-American vote.
“ They (GOP) have generally won presidential elections without a lot of minority voters,” Johnson said. “They don’t make the African-American community a priority. If Republicans really wanted to attract black people, they would talk about policies that are applicable to Black people and they don’t. They primarily talk about policies that are beneficial to the while middle class.and that is why Blacks tend to flock to the Democrats.”
Credit Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter for using a word during his Democratic National Convention speech last week that President Barack Obama seemingly has purged from his public vocabulary: poverty.
Nutter, just four full sentences into his DNC speech delivered the same night that President Obama spoke, used that “P” word that has practically disappeared from public political discourse among America’s elected leaders and leading media pundits.
Poverty grew by 27 percent increase across America from 2006-2010 according to an Indiana University study released earlier this year.
Poverty in America is “remarkably widespread” that study concluded.
Over fifty-million Americans are living in poverty the IU study stated.
That crushing condition guts over one-third of Philadelphia’s residents daily… the highest among American large cities.
And little surprise, that IU study noted that the largest increases in poverty afflicted Hispanics, African-Americans, children and households headed by women.
America’s child poverty ranks second-highest among 35 developed nations. (A three-person household with $17,900 annual income lives in poverty according to the federal government.)
It’s outrageously ironic that while poverty soars across America critically wounded by the wealth-greed enflamed Great Recession, anti-poverty discourse disappears from policy initiatives advanced by Democratic and Republican leaders.
Conservatives, especially Republicans, have long pushed the falsehood that America’s impoverished are solely responsible for their impoverishment.
That falsehood fudges foundational facts fanning impoverishment like what Vermont U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders castigates as America’s “grotesquely unfair distribution of wealth” — were the top 1 percent controls 41 percent of all wealth compared to the bottom 60 percent controlling just 2 percent of America’s wealth.
Irrespective of conflicted understandings about poverty’s root causes, at least one observable certainty exists about those tens of millions of Americans living in poverty or living near falling into poverty.
Not one among the tens-of-millions of impoverished were among the scores of millionaires/billionaires that recently paid a $1-million apiece for a private audience in Tampa Bay with Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney aboard the ritzy 150’ yacht “Cracker Bay” that flew the flag of the Cayman Islands where the wealthy often off-shore income to avoid paying U.S. taxes.
Mayor Nutter referenced the word poverty when extolling the necessity of all people acquiring solid educations. Nutter scored Republicans for slashing educational funding from kindergarten to college.
Nutter stated that education was essential for achieving his goals in Philadelphia that included reducing poverty.
“In Philadelphia,” Nutter said. “Our public safety, poverty reduction, health and economic development all start with education.”
Obama’s rare referencing of poverty, either from political reticence or refusal, has sparked criticism from within his political constituency.
“This year, both Governor Romney and President Obama at least mentioned the ‘P’ word in their convention speeches, but neither pledged to make the alleviation of poverty in America a priority,” Obama critic Tavis Smiley wrote recently.
It speaks volumes that self-applauded businessman Romney doesn’t practice what he preaches about the virtues of private enterprise generating paycheck producing jobs that keep people from falling into unemployment induced poverty.
Very few Black businesses around Tampa Bay, Fla., received any revenue from the millions of dollars expended on and generated by the RNC that recently anointed Romney.
The presidents of the Tampa Bay Black Chamber of Commerce and the Sun Coast African American Chamber of Commerce both said economic exclusion ruled at Tampa’s RNC.
“There was not big tent of inclusion,” said Tampa Bay Black Chamber head Willis Bowick. “The RNC had no real outreach to Black businesses here.”
Before dismissing this Tampa Bay Black business criticism of GOP exclusion as partisan soar-grapes recognize that Bowick is the president of the African-American Republican Club of Hillsborough County that includes Tampa Bay.
Shortly before the Tampa Bay RNC, a leading Republican activist in that city, Joseph Robinson, resigned from the GOP citing frustrations with the GOP’s persistent lack of response to issues important to African Americans including the lack of Black business inclusion at the RNC.
Robinson, who owns an engineering consulting firm, said things for blacks worsened within the GOP during the past few years paralleling the ascendancy of Tea Party influence.
“With the GOP they do not even give us trickle-down crumbs,” Robinson said.
In contrast to the black business exclusion at Tampa’s RNC, Black business received more equitable access to economic opportunities generated at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, NC.
Dr. Renae Sanders, chair of the Charlotte Mecklenburg Black Chamber of Commerce, said “several” Black owned companies received DNC related contracts including construction firms and event planners.
That Black business inclusion during the DNC, while commendable, does not off-set the exclusion Black businesses experienced in federal contracting from Obama’s ARRA stimulus.
Between Feb. 2009 and November 2010 black businesses received a paltry 3.5 percent of stimulus contracting compared to white firms receiving 81.3 percent of stimulus-funded contracts.
While the Democrat and Republican parties again pledged to protect Israel from external violence (increasingly exacerbated by Israel’s increasingly intransigent government) neither Obama nor Romney are addressing the urban violence epidemic wrecking America, as noted in a recent article by Philadelphia Tribune reporter Larry Miller.
Miller’s article quoted attorney/activist Michael Coard observing that neither Obama nor Romney address urban violence because “Romney doesn’t give a damn and Obama is afraid to give a damn.”
Civil Rights leader Rev. Jesse Jackson recently said Obama “must address poverty and violence in a different way.”
Linn Washington Jr. is a graduate of the Yale Law Fellowship Program.
Normally diverging on just about every issue, there’s one topic President Barack Obama and conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh agree on: the Republican Party may implode if Obama wins reelection.
There was Limbaugh in September, sweating profusely and predicting the end of the world immediately following an Obama victory. But, he didn’t stop there, lambasting GOP standard-bearer Mitt Romney for “not running a conservative campaign.”
And it wasn’t just Romney. “There's gonna be a new Republican Party if that happens,” growled the red-faced commentator. Limbaugh believes that the “new GOP” is “… gonna be led by Tea Party people.”
“There's no ‘if’ about this. It's gonna be ugly, it's gonna be gut wrenching, but it will happen.”
Two months later, while battling for re-election, President Obama chimed in on the subject, momentarily digressing from his campaign speech. "The question’s going to be: How do Republicans react post-election? Because there’s going to be a war going on inside that party. It just hasn’t broken up. It’s been unified in its opposition to me."
Each statement, and the tension in between, seems to validate the other on the surface. Limbaugh may have been channeling Tea Party rank-and-file frustration at the time, a need to openly whine about a deliberate and carefully orchestrated isolation game played by “Establishment Republicans” during their convention in Tampa, Fla. Many Tea Party faithful were telling the Tribune at the time that they knew what was up, didn’t appreciate it and would find some way to make those responsible pay. Many pointed to “country club” GOP icons like Crossroads GPS Super PAC king Karl Rove as a culprit. Rove, not mincing words over his clear distaste for upstarts like Sarah Palin — and others like Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin who wore down the GOP brand, seemed impervious to the threats while raising loads of money.
Yet, other GOP insiders are clearly trembling at the thought of a party in disarray, unlike anything seen since its founding in 1854. At that time, it was a fragmented coalition of Whigs, Democrats, Free Soilers and Know Nothings.
Some predict a similar situation in the event President Obama, a reviled and supremely hated target of the ideological right, gets his second term.
“There are a number of Republicans who are not and have not been happy with the Republican Party for a while,” said Timothy F. Johnson, founder of the Frederick Douglass Foundation, and a former vice chair of the North Carolina Republican Party. Talking to the Tribune, Johnson predicted an implosion within the party when either candidate wins the White House. “[Black Republican conservatives] are tired of having to speak for candidates who are unwilling to go into our communities or speak directly to the citizens. And while the overall objective of this election cycles is to remove President Obama from office, repeal Obamacare and get the economy back on track, regardless of who is elected there will be a revolt.”
Of course, it’s not just Black Republicans. Polls have remained tight for some time, and Republican strategists seem to have a nervous edge about them. Early voting returns favor the president, prompting Romney to recalibrate. Worried about a loss of advantage in critical battleground states like Ohio and Florida, Team Romney shifts to battle Team Obama on its left flank, engaging in an expanded map strategy as resources are being dumped into last minute campaign ad barrages in light blue states like Pennsylvania and Minnesota.
Many experts agree that there is a rising fear among poll-number crunching Republicans that Obama could win. A recent endorsement of the president from the traditionally right-leaning and pro-big business magazine The Economist jarred many conservatives into disbelief. That was in the wake of a surprise endorsement from former-Republican-turned-centrist-independent Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who suddenly became an Obama fan after what was perceived as an effective federal emergency response to Superstorm Sandy’s devastation.
And there was widespread disbelief from partisans on both sides of the aisle when an emotional New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie openly bear-hugged the president in multiple press conferences and interviews for his “personal attention” to the Sandy destruction on the Jersey shore. That was only days following a loud Christie on the pro-Romney trail blasting Obama as clueless and inept.
Still, Republican strategist and Potomac Strategy Group CEO Matt Mackowiak appears cautious on the GOP-implosion scenario. While conventional wisdom will blame conservatives, “the loss will not be seen as a rebuke to conservatism,” Mackowiak says, “but rather to a moderate candidate.”
“Party elders will seek to solve the immigration issue within the party, to ensure we not continue to lose such a large percentage of the growing Hispanic population. More broadly, the effect of a grand bargain, which could include tax increases, will threaten to split the party, but also potentially allow space for a true conservative candidate to be our nominee in 2016,” Mackowiak adds.
“Parties that lose back-to-back presidential elections often go through a period of change,” says former 2008 Obama co-chair and Colorado Senate President Peter Groff, who believes it won’t be as bad for the GOP as it seems. “The Democrats went more moderate after losing twice to Ronald Reagan and built the Democratic Leadership Council and ‘created’ Bill Clinton and leaned more left after going down twice to George W. Bush. So it makes perfect sense that the GOP will look inward after back-to-back wins by President Obama.”
“I don't buy the fact the party will be ‘ripped apart’ by the internal conversation, political parties are living entities and morph and change to better reflect their principals in modern times,” said Groff.
Washington Times columnist Jeneba Ghatt rejects the notion of an implosion, but definitely sees a need for change within the GOP in terms of demographics. “I’ve been under the presumption that if Barack Obama is re-elected, the Establishment Republicans would perhaps regain the reigns of their party, having realized that pandering to the extreme is a losing game.”
There’s a Facebook page — African Americans for Mitt Romney. There are those who might wonder why.
As the former Massachusetts governor looks to secure the Republican nomination, the question among Blacks has been: Where does he stand with them? Does he even care?
Consequently, Romney’s highest-profile endorsement so far from a Black supporter has been Aubrey Fenton, a former Burlington County, N.J., freeholder. There are no African Americans in the top ranks of his campaign.
Even the two Black Republicans in congress, Tim Scott and Allan West, have yet to endorse the party’s nominee-apparent. The Romney campaign, which often touts its support from Hispanics, women and other groups, did not return phone calls to The Tribune regarding information about Black supporters or staffers.
“His process with Blacks may seem nebulous at best,” said Maurice Goodmen, a Philadelphia-based Republican strategist and African American. “Did you know that his father marched with Dr. (Martin Luther) King? So there is a history that says he does have the African-American agenda at heart.”
There are those who believe that Romney, who will be running against Barack Obama, the first Black president, has no chance of winning over most African-American voters. Yet neglecting to court African Americans at all sends the wrong message to swing voters, said political players and observers. Romney’s problem, they said, isn’t that Blacks aren’t buying his message — but that he hasn’t bothered to sell it to them.
Democratic consultants compared Romney’s outreach unfavorably with George W. Bush’s efforts. Tad Devine recalled Bush’s 2000 campaign, which “conspicuously did a lot of outreach to the African-American community. Even though it didn’t affect the numbers,” he said to the Daily Beast, “it did have a very favorable impact on the campaign,” allowing Bush “to portray himself as more moderate — a conservative, but a compassionate conservative.” But Romney, said Devine, has offered “no outreach, no presence in his advertising, [save] a couple of frames in his very first ads.”
Steve McMahon, a Democrat consultant, said, “In a close election, this can be the difference between winning and losing,” pointing to George W. Bush’s 2004 margin of victory in Ohio, where he clinched a second term by upping his support among the state’s African-American voters by just 5 percentage points.
Politicos of all ideological bents stressed that Romney was in no way prejudiced against African Americans, but also agreed that his campaign has paid little attention to the group. As Lee Siegel memorably described the candidate who once tried to appeal to a group of Black kids at a Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade by singing the refrain of Who Let the Dogs Out, “Mitt Romney is the whitest white man to run for president in recent memory.”
Since Richard Nixon’s Southern strategy severed Blacks’ remaining ties with the party of Lincoln, Democrats have dominated the Black vote to the point where exit polls in key primary states like Iowa and New Hampshire registered 0 percent African-American participation. In Mississippi, the most heavily African-American state in the country, only 2 percent of GOP primary voters were Black.
But in some ways, his campaign’s problem seems particular to Romney, not his Party. An extensive list of key supporters of his 2008 presidential bid included groups of women, Hispanics and Asian supporters, but not African Americans. In contrast, his Republican rivals this year could all point to noteworthy Black supporters or staffers.
Newt Gingrich has former Rep. J.C. Watts and former presidential candidate Herman Cain on his “conservative Dream Team.” Ron Paul has an African-American spokesman, Gary Howard. Even Santorum had O’Neal Dozier, a controversial pastor and honorary chair of his Florida campaign, and Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila, the former Packers defensive end who endorsed him in Wisconsin.
“It’s just plain stupid,” said demographer Joel Kotkin of the campaign’s apparent neglect of Black voters. “This is clearly a blind spot, perhaps because Romney’s generation of Mormons grew up in an all-white world,” he said, comparing it to “Obama’s preference for university professors over businessmen.”
In what read like a preemptive defense, the reliably Romney-friendly Drudge Report linked to a story with the headline, “Report: ‘Stunning lack of diversity’ in Obama’s re-election campaign.” That story was based largely on one picture of overwhelmingly young and white Obama campaign staffers at his Chicago headquarters that was originally posted on the president’s Tumblr page. “I just saw a piece on Drudge [that] looked at the Obama campaign, and it seems like neither [campaign] has diversity,” said Alphonso Jackson, the former secretary of Housing and Urban Development for the Bush administration to the Daily Beast.
But Obama has less reason for concern on this front; he is the first Black president, and as the first Black major-party candidate, he won 96 percent of the Black vote in 2008. Romney, on the other hand, has already had to respond to questions about his prominent role in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, which mostly excluded Black members until 1978, when he was 30 years old. While he’s tried to steer clear of discussing his Mormon faith since delivering a 2007 speech about it, Romney has since said that he played no role in the church’s earlier discriminatory policy, and that he “literally wept” tears of joy on hearing the news that it had been changed.
With the lines drawn for November, Republicans tended to accentuate the positive. Republican strategist Rich Galen said outreach efforts aimed at Black voters “might well influence non-aligned voters, white and Black” in key battlegrounds like the suburbs of Philadelphia, and that he expected the Romney campaign to ramp up its outreach efforts in the months leading up to the Party’s convention in August.
Jackson complained that while both parties’ campaigns have trouble drawing volunteers of color, “we never say anything about Democrats” with diversity issues. He called Romney “as fair-minded as God makes a human being,” and predicted his administration would be as diverse as those of Presidents Clinton and Bush. “They’re going to reach out,” said Jackson. “This is 2012, and it’s foolish to think that … any candidate would be insensitive” to Black voters. Cain and West both argued that Romney would do best with Black voters by offering a color-blind conservative message, rather than aiming a direct appeal to the group.
Armstrong Williams, a prominent African-American conservative commentator, was more critical, blaming Romney’s campaign team for failing to cultivate Black supporters and speculating that the candidate had been led astray by his advisers. With “the right advice, right backbone, [and the] gall to be audacious,” Williams predicted Romney could exceed 15 percent of the Black vote, which would be four times the share John McCain garnered running against Obama in 2008.
So far, Romney has given little indication he’ll make that push.
“African Americans have been hit particularly hard by President Obama’s failed economic policies,” said Romney through his spokesperson Andrea Saul. “On President Obama’s watch, 14 percent of African Americans are unemployed. Governor Romney talks about these issues daily — the economy, gas prices, unemployment and the household budget squeeze that Americans are faced with — and has a plan to get the country back on track.”
“Remember,” said Kotkin, “Romney grew up in affluent, white Michigan in the 1950s, came of age among fellow white Mormons, and he was governor of Massachusetts, which is not exactly diversity central, either. He’s 65: how many Black people do you think he grew up with? How many were getting M.B.A.s at Harvard while he was there? Or were at Bain?”
“Romney just has these blind spots that don’t necessarily make him a bad guy. It just is who he is.”
The Daily Beast contributed to this report.
Zack Burgess is the enterprise writer for The Tribune. He is a freelance writer and editor who covers culture, politics and sports. He can be contacted at zackburgess.com.
The most perplexing question surrounding this year’s Republican race for the presidential nomination has been why can’t Mitt Romney seem to close the deal, despite running against what many consider an inferior set of opponents.
He has rarely exceeded 20 or 25 percent in national polls. And many pundits believe that the 25 percent support he has garnered thus far is about as far as Romney’s support will go — which leaves him extremely vulnerable to candidates like Newt Gingrich, who is working to distinguish himself as the latest ‘non-Romney’ candidate and consolidate much of the remaining 75 percent of the Republican vote.
There was Michelle Bachmann, Rick Perry, Herman Cain and now Gingrich. While the non-Romney’s rose and fell, Romney’s numbers have never seemed to move, with voters seemingly transferring their support from one surging candidate to the next.
“So far, with only three states having weighed in on who the nominee should be, I don't think it's fair to say that Romney isn't able to close the deal,” said Client Strategist for the Republican National Committee Eric Wilson. “At the end of the day, Republicans are going to unite around our nominee, because any of the candidates still in the race will make a better president than Barack Obama.”
If you look beyond the top-line data in the polls, it becomes clear that nowhere near 75 percent of Republican voters have been vehemently opposed to nominating Romney. A Gallup poll conducted before New Hampshire’s primary, for instance, found that only about 30 percent of Republican voters considered Romney an unacceptable nominee. These numbers have bounced around a bit from time to time and from survey to survey, but these results are fairly typical when questions like these are put to the voters.
About 25 percent of Republican voters are in Romney’s base (incidentally, about 22 percent of Republicans nationwide voted for Romney in their party’s primaries in 2008). And about 30 percent of the Republican primary electorate is truly opposed to him.
That leaves a swing group of about 45 percent of the vote. These voters can certainly imagine candidates that they’d prefer to Romney — but they also consider him an acceptable choice, more or less.
What seems to have become clear is that the hypothetical candidate these voters might have preferred to Romney has not materialized.
There are enough substantive and stylistic differences between the various non-Romney candidates that they should not be viewed as interchangeable, this evidence suggests. A considerable number of Santorum’s voters prefer Romney to Gingrich; a considerable number of Gingrich’s voters prefer Romney to Santorum.
And voters in the swing group are now settling for Romney. They are not necessarily doing so enthusiastically: A recent Pew poll found that there has been little improvement in Republican voters’ overall views of their candidates, which is unusual but not unprecedented.
The 2004 Democratic presidential race parallels this one in many ways.
For example, Democratic turnout was reasonably strong in November 2004, despite voters’ initial lack of enthusiasm for John Kerry. The opportunity to beat a polarizing incumbent is a powerful motivating force.
Jon Huntsman was candid when he offered insight into just how little faith Republicans have that Romney can beat Obama. Keep in mind, Huntsman has thrown his support behind Romney now that he is no longer in the race.
A recent Gallup poll found that GOP enthusiasm is on the decline. Republicans and Democrats are almost even, enthusiasm-wise, as they move further into the election year.
And the 2012 election is looking more like a carbon copy of 2008, which also looked an awful lot like 1996. Republicans are lining up behind Romney. The GOP seems to be coming to the realization that they have to nominate somebody, so it might as well be Mitt Romney.
But Romney's sudden downgrade from Republican frontrunner to potential also-ran coincided with a massive shift of conservative Christian voters in South Carolina to Gingrich's camp.
Why? Many observers trace it to lingering suspicion among evangelicals — a key Republican constituency — about Romney's Mormon faith.
And that has led some to suggest that Romney needs to make a speech about his Mormonism along the lines of John F. Kennedy's defense of his Catholicism to Protestant leaders during the 1960 campaign.
So could Romney pull a Kennedy? Should he?
Mike Huckabee, an evangelical favorite who sought the GOP nod in 2008, told Fox News after Romney's South Carolina implosion that the time had come for Romney to give it a shot.
"I do think he ought to address it," Huckabee said, arguing that such a speech would "sort of dismiss it, make it less important."Top of Form
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But few political observers, and apparently even fewer Romney's allies, appear to be urging that step.
For one thing, the tracking polls in the GOP contest over the past months have registered more spikes and dips than an erratic electrocardiogram. Romney's cardiac moment in South Carolina — and his continuing struggle heading into Tuesday’s Florida primary — needs to be seen in that context.
"I think it was more a result of Newt Gingrich catching fire combined with a pretty tough week for Mitt on issues like taxes and income," said David French, a social conservative and Romney ally who with his wife, Nancy, just published a book, "Why Evangelicals Should Support Mitt Romney (and Feel Good About It!)."
"It's a pretty conventional narrative — at least by the conventions of this very volatile race," French added. "If there was any blanket anti-Mormon sentiment, then Mitt would not have been up to begin with."
When Kennedy addressed the Greater Houston Ministerial Association in September 1960, it was only two months before the November election, and he did not have to worry about his Democratic base the way Romney has to worry about securing the GOP base to win the primaries.
Kennedy's chief task in 1960 actually was not to convert his audience; they were already a lost cause, and he knew it. What the Kennedy campaign hoped to do was to influence the 23 percent of the wider electorate who were still undecided.
"The campaign's polling showed that yes, if Kennedy could paint himself as a victim of anti-Catholic bigotry, that will move people your way," said Shaun Casey, a professor of Christian ethics at Wesley Theological Seminary and author of "The Making of a Catholic President: Kennedy vs. Nixon 1960." And it worked.
Romney's "religion" problem is about numbers as much as theology. As Casey notes, Kennedy's other task in Houston was to rally his Catholic base, which he did. But rallying an already strong GOP Mormon base wouldn't do much for Romney.
While Kennedy had a Catholic population of 40 million behind him — about one-quarter of the electorate, concentrated in key battleground states — Mormons today number just about 2 million, and are geographically concentrated in the Mountain West in mostly reliable red states (with the exception of toss-ups Nevada and Colorado).
Romney already gave a "Houston" speech — and it didn't work. Back in 2007, Romney was struggling to overcome evangelicals' doubts about his Mormon faith. While the speech was well received, it didn't move Iowa caucus-goers back then, and a second speech now would likely not convince suspicious evangelicals in Florida (and beyond).
Romney's biggest task is convincing conservative Christians that he is a conservative, not that he is a Christian.
Evangelicals have shown they are happy to back all sorts of unorthodox candidates – Herman Cain being a perfect example. Evangelicals may not love Mormons, but they are really down on moderates. Indeed, Romney is arguably "not Mormon enough," Richard Land, a top Southern Baptist official, said on the eve of the South Carolina vote.
"If his stance on life and his stance on marriage had been consistently what the stance of the Mormon church has been, he would have far less doubts among social conservatives," Land said.
Ralph Reed, head of the Faith and Freedom Coalition and a top evangelical political activist, said he doesn't think Romney's Mormonism will necessarily preclude him from winning evangelical votes or the GOP nomination, so he doesn't need to make the Kennedy speech at this point.
"Bottom line is," said Reed, "he may need to address it as the campaign proceeds, and he may choose to address it as part of a speech down the road."
In Florida, which is more diverse and less ideological than South Carolina, cooler heads could prevail if Romney can exploit his advantage in minions and millions. He has had the airwaves largely to himself for weeks, accompanied by a superior organization. Romney's campaign is in attack mode now – a sign that the campaign shares the Washington insiders' anxiety.
“The process is working and there's still time for voters to decide,” said Wilson. “Romney's greatest appeal continues to be the 'electability argument' and as long as he continues to raise the money needed to fuel his organization, he'll be in the contest. The other candidates remaining in the race don't have organizations on par with Romney so in many ways they're playing catch up.”
The New York Times Contributed to this report.
Zack Burgess is the enterprise writer for The Tribune. He is a freelance writer and Editor who covers culture, politics and sports. He can be contacted at zackburgess.com.