Bill Clinton Slams GOP Leaders For Snubbing Black Voter Forum

05/25/2011 12:15 pm ET

Former President Bill Clinton has sharply criticized the Republican presidential frontrunners for snubbing an African-American voter forum this week.

"This says more about the evolution of the Republican party than anything," Clinton told Tavis Smiley on his Public Radio International show, which will air this Friday. "Keep in mind that Abraham Lincoln was the first Republican president and Theodore Roosevelt invited Booker T. Washington to the White House. And after Theodore Roosevelt, the parties began to switch places."

Clinton is the latest figure to criticize GOP candidates for brushing off the forum at Morgan State University, a historically black college in Baltimore. Even President Bush, who rarely wades into the Republican presidential race, last week urged candidates in his party to do more to reach out to African-American voters.

During Smiley's show, Clinton said he regretted that the GOP was alienating blacks and Latinos. "I said openly when I was president that I look forward to the day when no party could claim 90 percent of any voting group again."

He added, "I think our side looks pretty good coming into the next election."

Even as Clinton was speaking out about the forum, at least one Republican candidate who had dropped out of the event decided to participate. Tavis Smiley told the Huffington Post that Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-CO), who has cornered the issue of immigration in his primary campaign, has reversed his earlier decision to sit out the forum.

A scheduler from Tancredo's campaign confirmed the news with the Huffington Post, but his campaign was unwilling to comment on why he changed his position.

Smiley himself wasn't sure why the change of heart had occurred.

"I don't understand why he changed his mind, all I can assume is that some people do the right things because they see the light, and sometimes they feel heat," Smiley said late on Wednesday afternoon. "I'm not altogether sure how Tancredo came to his new decision, whether he saw the light or felt the heat, but I'm delighted he's the first of the five to change his decision. I am hopeful that other four will do likewise."

A partial, unedited transcript of Clinton's remarks is below.

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This says more about the evolution of the Republican party than anything. Keep in mind that Abraham Lincoln was the first Republican president and Theodore Roosevelt invited Booker T. Washington to the White House. And after Theodore Roosevelt, the parties began to switch places. America's basically had throughout its history one generally more progressive party and one generally more conservative...when although the issues have been different. But the Republican party was the party of national unity and using the power of the federal government to advance that unity. "A more perfect union" on the social issues and on the economic issues from Abraham Lincoln through Theodore Roosevelt.

When Theodore Roosevelt left office his selected choice to succeed him William Howard Taft basically moved the party to the right. And then after President Wilson was in office, there were 12 years of Republican rule which moved the party further to the right. But still it was a reasonably moderate party. When Kennedy ran against Nixon for president in 1960, Kennedy got about 65% of the African-American vote and then only because he called Corretta King when Martin Luther King was in jail. Otherwise the vote would have been about 60-40. The Democrats didn't get a majority of the African-American vote until Franklin Roosevelt became president. Because of Eleanor Roosevelt's passionate committment to equal opportunity and Franklink Roosevelt's committment to give African-Americans places to contribute in The New Deal Recovery Jobs Program and in the military.

But it still was about a 60-40 deal. And Kennedy took it up to 65-35, then Johnson in signing The Voting Rights Act and The Civil Rights Act, got it higher. Then, the sea change came in 1980 decided to solidify - meanwhile the Democrats were getting more African-American voters, the Republicans were getting more White Southerners and they decided they liked it; and (future president) President Reagan declared for president in 1980 in Philadelphia, MS...talking about states' rights where the three civil rights workers (Chaney, Goodman, Shwerner) had been murdered just sixteen years earlier. And I remember the mainstream media seemed to think that was perfectly alright.

That 1980 moment captured a switching of the parties that basically began with the end of Theodore Roosevelt's presidency; picked up steam under FDR. Took off like a rocket because of President Kennedy's integration of the colleges and President Johnson's actions. But Eisenhower's courageous decision simply to implement the Supreme Court decision (of Brown v. Board of Education) showed that in his presidency in the 1950s, neither party had a monopoly on either support of African-Americans voters...or far more important, their own convictions about what the role of the national government should be to advance equal opportunity and bring us together.

In other words, an African-American voter could be voting in the 50s, with nowhere near the rights and other economic options you have today; but you could still look at both these parties and say 'there might be somebody in both these parties that when the chips were down would really stick up for me, that would wake up every morning and go to the White House wantin' to do the right thing for me. And I can be just like any other American. I can listen to these arguments and pick the party and the person that's best for me.'

This switch, while it occurred as I said over the entire 20th century, really picked up steam because...and Johnson knew it. Johnson said when he signed The Voting Rights Act after The Civil Rights Act that he had probably consigned the Democratic party to minority status in the South for a long time because he knew that White Southerners would move away. But White Southerners were getting more progressive on race.

So since the 1980s, there have been lots of other issues. Anyway, that's basically what happened. And what I was hoping would happen...I said openly when I was president that 'I look forward to the day when no party could claim 90 percent of any voting group again.' Because I thought it would be better for America if both parties were reaching out to every single group.

Yes Blacks, but Hispanics and others. And the Republicans made a little headway on Hispanics and then decided there was too much juice in the immigration issue...and so, you know...I think our side looks pretty good, coming into the next election.

John McCain, I don't think he has a racist bone in his body. I disagree with him profoundly on Iraq and on other things, but I think he's a profoundly good man who paid an enormous price for this country. Governor Huckabee, our former governor here...I have a very good relationship with him. I like him personally very much. We disagree on a lot of things, (but) I don't think he's a racist.