As the author of the recently published book Republicans and the Black Vote, I've been getting calls asking for my thoughts on the recent decisions by former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Senator John McCain, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, and former Senator Fred Thompson to skip Thursday's forum at Morgan State University in Baltimore, MD, a historically Black college. Almost all of the callers want to know what impact, if any, this all will have on the campaigns of the campaigns going forward. I think the impact will be limited in the primary, but the nominee will have hell to pay in the Black community next November for not showing participating in the forum. There's an old saying in politics: "Friends come and go; enemies accumulate." Well, if any of these missing-in-action Republicans get the nomination, then they will learn just how many enemies they have made by stiff arming Black America.
One question that has caught me off-guard in this is: What should Black Republicans do in response to this? It's a strange position for me, a progressive, to give the advice to Republicans, but I really think it's important for this group of maligned and marginalized activists to get in the game. Black Republicans have long been seen as unwilling to vocally and aggressively speak out against ridiculous missteps such as this. There are three steps Black Republicans can take now to move toward credibility in the Black community. If they are successful in that regard then, perhaps, they will see their fortunes rise within the Black community and in the Grand Old Party.
First, all of the major Black Republican individuals and organizations who believe it fundamentally wrong for these candidates to miss the forum should form an ad hoc coalition to express their outrage and demand change. Press conferences, letters, interviews, blogs, whatever; just make it plain this is a decision with which you disagree. That way, even if they don't show, you can face the collective Black community and say: "We tried." Credibility begins with small steps. It's time for Black Republicans to get started.
Second, Black Republicans must demand positions of authority within these campaigns. The Republican nominee will be caught flat-footed if he has no one of substance to go to the Black community. It may not seem like much now, but the 11 percent of the Black vote that George W. Bush received in 2004 will look very good to the 2008 nominee, given the way Independents and Latino/a voters are likely to break. The candidates need to know that they are making a mistake in skipping the forum. Sadly, for them, they don't appear to have anyone in their campaigns who get it. The calculation that they seem to have made -- that there aren't any votes to be had by appearing at the forum or that there may be a hostile crowd -- is ridiculous and no one in the campaigns stood up and said so. Given that invitations went out six months ago, no one, not even Black Republicans, believes the "scheduling conflicts" defense, so the campaigns need to get real and do the right thing.
Third, it's time for Black Republicans to speak out more forcefully on issues that are of importance to African Americans when there is common ground. The deafening silence by Republicans, Black or otherwise, with regard to the Jena 6, for example, is an area where Black Republicans have dropped the ball.
Taking these steps won't guarantee that Black Republicans will begin to win over reluctant converts. However, doing nothing is a sure-fire way to get nothing.
Michael K. Fauntroy is an assistant professor of public policy at George Mason University and author of the recently published book Republicans and the Black Vote.. He blogs at www.MichaelFauntroy.com.