Commentary: The Five Black People You Meet in GOP Heaven

Say hello to Dr. Ben Carson, Tim Scott, Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell and Michael Steele.

Posted: 03/15/2013 09:05 AM EDT
Keith Boykin

This weekend, conservative political activists from around the country gather in Washington for the annual Conservative Political Action Convention. It's a place where traditional conservative activists can applaud their favorite right-wing speakers while the far-right extremists can pick up the latest borderline racist, sexist, or homophobic bumper sticker. It's like GOP Heaven. There's something for everyone...as long as you're an anti-Obama conservative.

There's been a lot of talk this week about CPAC's snub of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, but the GOP has been busy rolling out the welcome mat for African-Americans. By welcome mat, I mean a red carpet long enough to sweep the party's racially divisive recent history under the rug.

Much to my surprise, CPAC has invited at least 11 Black conservatives to speak at its convention this week, even while the ranks of Black Republican-elected officials seem to be thinning by the day.

Just this week, Florida Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll, the highest ranking Black Republican in that state, resigned from office after 60 people associated with a company she represented were arrested for illegal gambling, racketeering and money laundering.

Remember, it was just last year when voters across the country repudiated Black Republican candidates from east to west. But that didn't stop defeated former Rep. Allen West from invoking his race at the CPAC convention on Thursday. "There is nothing on this green earth that a liberal fears more than a Black American who wants a better life and a smaller government," West told the mostly white audience.

Then there's former presidential candidate and pizza man Herman Cain, the famous 9-9-9 pitchman who couldn't remember which country was Libya during a Milwaukee newspaper interview for his failed presidential campaign. Cain enjoyed his 15 minutes in the CPAC spotlight two years ago when he used his speech to complain that "stupid people" are ruining America.

Black Republicans didn't fare any better in the elections in Utah and Arizona last year, two states that haven't voted for a Democratic presidential candidate more than once in the past 50 years. But despite their red state advantages, Mia Love and Vernon Parker lost their congressional bids in Utah and Arizona.

Then there's Artur Davis, the former Alabama Black Democrat who turned into a Virginia Black Republican after losing his Alabama gubernatorial campaign. Although Davis has lost the support of his own Black community, he's still welcome at CPAC.

But here's the problem. If the GOP seriously wants to attract African-Americans, they can't do it with the fiery Black Republicans who spend so much of their time attacking other Black people. Although the right-wing base loves a Black guy who will stick it to the first Black president, overheated rhetoric does nothing to recruit more Blacks into the GOP.

That leaves us with about five prominent African-Americans at the center of attention in today's Republican Party. The first is Dr. Ben Carson, the famous Black neurosurgeon whose anti-Obamacare rant at this year’s National Prayer Breakfast caused the conservative editorial board of the Wall Street Journal to call for Carson to run for president. He's now become the darling of the right wing and a regular guest on Fox News.

The second is Tim Scott, the first Black senator from the South since reconstruction, who was appointed to office by South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley.

Add to that list former Bush Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, not a likely political candidate but one of the few people in the GOP who could credibly take on Hillary Clinton in 2016.

The fourth spot might go to former Secretary of State Colin Powell. Well, it might have if he hadn't endorsed President Obama two times in a row. Now he's about as welcome at CPAC as Chris Christie in blackface.

And the fifth person is former RNC chairman Michael Steele, who got booted out of office even though he led his party through a successful midterm election campaign in 2010. Steele is now an MSNBC political analyst, which is a bit like Donna Brazile becoming a Fox News contributor.

Where does that leave us? Of the five top Black GOP political figures, none of them is likely to run for president and only one of them — Steele — has ever been elected to statewide office. So at the end of the day, we're left with a lot of Herman Cain and Allen West to listen to for the next four years.

Heaven help us.

 

Keith Boykin is a New York Times best-selling author and former White House aide to President Clinton. He attended Harvard Law School with President Barack Obama and currently serves as a TV political commentator. He writes political commentary for BET.com each week.

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.

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