One year ago Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus assured one and all that the GOP had learned from its 2008 and especially 2012 presidential election debacles and that it would change its losing ways. The formula for the comeback was something that the GOP has more than once paid much lip service to, and that was making the party more inclusive. This meant making a real effort to draw more blacks and Hispanics into the party tent.
Priebus had a big, wordy, interminably long blueprint for doing that, which included embracing immigration reform, and spending millions in a concerted campaign to talk and listen to what minorities had to say on the issues, and once that was done, presumably to incorporate some of their positions into the party's supposedly evolving program for outreach. Priebus, on the first anniversary of his manifesto, claimed that the GOP had righted the ship and had made the necessary changes it promised a year ago.
Priebus is right about changes. But the changes he touted with success were revamping their fundraising machinery, tweaking the number of debates the GOP contenders have with each other, and investing more in technology to improve its field operations. The only problem with that is there wasn't a single word about what progress it has made in attracting the supposed legions of blacks and Hispanics that the RNC claims it wants and needs.
This is no surprise. In quick succession, GOP rocker and pitchman Ted Nugent maligned President Obama as a "subhuman mongrel," GOP House representative Paul Ryan, chair of the House Budget Committee, virtually called blacks and Hispanics lazy as the cause of their chronic high joblessness, and South Dakota GOP state representative Phil Jensen publicly said it was OK for businesses to exclude blacks from service. Their outbursts could be chalked up to the rants or ignorance of a few named GOP luminaries, and some top GOP officials did chastise Nugent for his bone-headed cracks. But that's not much reassurance that the GOP has indeed done the 180 degree pirouette on racial sensitivity that it claims it's trying hard to do.
Then there's the other problem that the RNC has even if it meant every word it wrote a year ago about changing course and making a major push to make diversity a reality in the party. That problem remains its own party, or more particularly, the millions of GOP backers in the south and Heartland, and the gaggle of right-wing webs, blogs, and talk radio jocks that think the GOP's only flub is that it's not truly conservative enough. They have saber-rattled the GOP so that any retreat from its core beliefs and message will perpetually doom it to political has-been status in national politics. They warn that if the GOP suddenly starts pandering to minorities and gays, it can kiss millions of their fervent supporter's goodbye. This deeply-embedded belief was plainly on display at the recent Conservative Political Action Conference.
Presumptive 2016 presidential nomination contenders Rand Paul, Rick Perry, and Ted Cruz had earlier called out Nugent for his despicable digs at Obama and demanded that he apologize. Yet they didn't miss a beat, and still issued a fighting challenge to the GOP, not to sway from its hard-core conservative mission.
This was just a continuation of the assault GOP hardliners waged on Mitt Romney in the aftermath of his 2012 presidential defeat. They wailed that he lost because they weren't conservative enough. They then denounced and sloughed off any talk from the GOP party leaders of re-messaging, mounting an aggressive outreach to minorities, even Hispanics, and attempting a reversal on immigration, and they haven't given any sign that they've backed away from that.
But even that almost paled beside Priebus's own declaration on the Christian Broadcast Network last July that he didn't much like the word diversity personally and that the RNC would stay the course in representing "Christian" beliefs. This was a thinly disguised wink and nod assurance to those Republicans that were having nervous fits about his diversity manifesto.
Priebus had a chance to even more forcefully prove that the GOP meant business about its course change on minorities with the Illinois Congressional candidacy of Erika Harold, an attorney and former Miss America winner, who is African-American. She complained bitterly that the Illinois state GOP put up every obstacle under the sun to torpedo her candidacy. Priebus issued a terse rebuke of a party official for a blatantly bigoted dig at Harold last June, but did not utter a peep since about the "political obstructionism" Harold complained about from party officials.
The RNC talked a good game a year ago about diversity, but if Harold and the GOP's inaction on it since are any gauge of its intent, it's just that talk.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on American Urban Radio Network. He is the author of How Obama Governed: The Year of Crisis and Challenge. He is an associate editor of New America Media. He is the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KTYM 1460 AM Radio Los Angeles and KPFK-Radio and the Pacifica Network.