When I set out to write about the newly started College Republican Chapter at Morehouse College I had images of furious conservatives in my mind. Wild eyed undergraduates with a bible in one hand and Ayn Rand in the other running around campus like Dap at the end of School Daze screaming “Wake Up” from the Democratic plantation. The GOP is making a big pitch for young voters and Black voters since getting their butts handed to them in 2012 and re-launching College Republicans at Morehouse is part of that effort. But I didn’t meet a group of holy rollers ready to bring the GOP gospel to the liberals, or even new age libertarians ready to go off grid and vote Ron Paul. What I saw was untapped potential, a revolution that not only wasn’t being televised, it wasn’t being broadcast, taped, dubbed or even recorded. The next generation of Black Republicans have all the right tools to make a difference, too bad they’re pretty much left in the shed.
Fear of a Black Voting Planet
The numbers are pretty bad; the Republican nominee for president has gotten over 10% of the black vote in a general election once since 1996. Black voters have been running from the Republican Party like a reverse stampede of elephants before Obama ran in 2008 but it’s only gotten worse since. Further the national Republican Party is still pretty conflicted on black voters. On the one side you have party Chair Reince Priebus who has made a push in both money and words to put a blacker face on the GOP because he knows 2016 is a Hillary coronation if 60+% of black voters keep turning out and 96% vote Democrat. On the other side is the REST of the GOP outside of Washington which has made it a point to pass voter ID laws and voting restrictions in every swing state for the express purpose of suppressing the youth and black vote. And Morehouse College is somewhere in between these two warring camps.
I was escorted to the weekly campus meeting by club president Michael, a cardigan wearing, wire rim glasses sporting third year chemistry major at Morehouse. When I told him I wanted to interview this next generation of black Republicans he was excited, and genuinely felt the group reflected a diversity of GOP opinions not often seen by the mainstream press. I was cautiously optimistic.
Out of the Mouths of Baby Republicans
“You’ve been on welfare all these years why don’t you try to get off it and they’re like well the governments gonna pay for it and Obama’s gonna give me all this free money. And why should I work? And to me that’s not right.”
Right off the bat Donny, freshman from northern Georgia said he became a Republican because of the lazy welfare cheats he knew back home. In fact, most of the 7 students I met with and interviewed said they came to the GOP because they were free market conservatives and felt the Grand Ole’ Party was the way to go. Although they admitted there are some problems with that in the black community as a whole.
“There’s a perception that the Republican party is uhm, for White rich people. Especially among African Americans. ” Said Jovan Pierre, shy student up front who also talked about his pro-life stance being crucial to his voting politics. Of course all of the free market talk was fine, but really I felt like they were beating around the bush, so I got direct in my questioning.
“Why do you think most black folks don’t vote Republican? Is it a policy thing or a perception thing?” I asked.
The chapter President Michael spoke out immediately:
“When Mitt Romney was running against president Obama recently I heard people around campus saying I’m not voting for Mitt Romney because I wanna keep financial aide.”
When I pointed out that the Obama administration has actually gutted HBCU’s across the nation by arbitrarily ending the Plus-One Loan program, the lifeblood of many African American college students, the irony wasn’t lost on the group. But it really didn’t matter, no one believed Mitt Romney was offering a better deal, African American voters just don’t trust most Republican policies. When I asked how the party can change that the answers were pretty straight forward.
“You have to SHOW a program that works” said Michael, a business student from Cincinnati, sitting in the back of the room “They [The GOP] can’t just say something works they have to show it to people, that’s the only way they’re going to get black votes.”
Once we got to the subject of perception the room got more animated and I broached the main reason that any African American Republican on an HBCU campus knows that Blacks don’t vote for the GOP.
“Let’s just talk about the elephant in the room” I said. “You all know that most black folks don’t vote Republican because they think they’re racist. They see things like voter ID and other policies by the Republicans that do not appear to be helpful to the black community. If you could talk to [ RNC Chair] Reince Priebus what would you tell him?”
They all kindof laughed a knowing laugh then paused for a moment. When the hands started going up to speak the Morehouse GOP spoke with one voice with same advice for the Republican National Committee: Social Issues.
“[On Social issues] If they keep, if they keep their y’know, dogmatic and I’m not changing I’m not budging attitude they’re going to keep losing elections. And they haven’t found that point where they can balance and not be so stubborn on social issues.” Said one freshman marketing major.
More than race, or abortion the students kept going back to things like gay marriage, saying that the Republicans were losing young voters [ like themselves] with their stances on those issues. Further, one student blurted out “And Stop bashing Obama”. While everyone in the room considered themselves a Republican or Libertarian, every single person in that room thought highly of President Barack Obama the man, if not the politician.
“I respect the man, he’s done historic things” says political director Mark, dressed in a dapper suit and tie in the middle of the room,
” But Policy is fair game”.
The Right Messengers
The sexy story would be to say that this was a group of fire breathing nut jobs, perfect fodder for liberal commentators and anti-Republican pundits to screech at but that’s not what I found at Morehouse. What I found is the voice of Black Republicanism that is never seen on the airwaves. They weren’t grinning golliwogs apologizing for racism and performing for White conservatives, or whiny African American conservatives claiming to be ostracized by the liberal black establishment for daring to leave the Democratic “plantation”. They weren’t even the funny nerdy Republicans from Key & Peele. These were normal college kids with opinions. In other words the polar opposite of what the Republican Party puts on television cable networks every week to supposedly recruit new black voters. Were they always right about Republican policies? Of course not. Were they a little naïve about the relationship between the party and Black voters? Occasionally. But they were also bright engaging normal students who could be critical of the GOP and Obama while not spewing race laden talking points and rhetoric. The Republican party is never going to be the top choice for Black America, but they could be on the menu. If the national party spent more time tapping into places like Morehouse, and engaging these students as more than window dressing for diversity brochures, and less time on shock jock political provocateurs looking for 15 minute of fame on CNN, Fox and MSNBC; maybe the Republican nominee in 2016 can snag more than 8% of the black vote. But as long as it’s easier for the GOP to hire political hucksters who would rather tap dance at Tea Party rallies than do voter registration in the South side of Chicago the Morehouse College Republicans will remain an anomaly. It’s too bad because they really have a message worth hearing.