An urban legend put out by the liberal press says that in the late 1960s the Republican Party embarked on a so-called “southern strategy” and exchanged a century-old core constituency of the party, African-Americans, for the support of what was once the Democratic “Solid South.” The only problem, as with most urban legends, is that it is simply not true.
Even if the above narrative is not in fact true, some 85-90% of the black vote today routinely goes to the Democrats, despite the fact that famous African-American personages from Frederick Douglass to Martin Luther King were members of the Republican Party. However, Wisconsin — the state in which the Republican Party was founded — may be about to hand the Democrats a shock which will herald the historic constituency’s return.
Under the leadership of current RNC Chairman Reince Priebus, the Republican Party of Wisconsin in 2010 achieved a major upset. In a state that had last voted for a Republican presidential candidate in 1988, in which all state-wide offices (including both Senate seats) save one (attorney general) were held by Democrats, who also controlled both houses of the state legislature and five of the eight congressional districts, the situation was almost totally reversed in November of 2010: Republicans took control of both houses of the legislature, five of the eight congressional seats, and all but three state-wide offices (secretary of state, director of public instruction, and one of the Senate seats).
The narrow victories revealed that Wisconsin was a deeply divided state, nearly 50-50 on both sides. Though the enraged Left tried to mount a recall campaign against the governor, lieutenant governor, and key state Senate seats the following year, they failed in nearly all their goals, and Scott Walker became the first governor in American history to survive a recall vote and be elected twice to the same term (the second time by a higher percentage than the first).
In an effort to dull the knife edge and broaden the party’s appeal, a strategy has been launched to engage the minority communities in Wisconsin and, in the case of African-Americans particularly, to try to regain what was once a core Republican constituency by countering Democratic activism in the community. At first blush, one would think this would not be hard. Most members of the African-American community are concentrated in the major urban centers such as Milwaukee, the state’s largest city. All have long been bastions of Democratic political power. However, under this political monopoly, blacks have fared very poorly: Poverty is rampant, the unemployment and crime rates rate are sky-high, and the public school system is a disgrace. After fifty years of the War on Poverty initiated by the Johnson administration, poverty is clearly winning.
The party therefore appointed a full-time outreach professional in Milwaukee to engage the local African-American community, and since January a group of pastors and small businessmen — not always distinct categories, since many black congregations are themselves too poor and struggling to support their pastors — have been meeting regularly, both amongst themselves and with various representatives of the state and local Republican parties, in an effort to gain information and strategize about how to reach out to their flocks and the community at large. This includes a Republican presence at the “Juneteenth Day” celebration — a locally significant celebration which marks the day on which the news of the Emancipation Proclamation reached all parts of the Confederacy during the Civil War — at which mounds of literature and hundreds of CDs with information on significant events and personages in black history are given away. Also, pastor have been passing out conservative voting guides that provide accurate information on how various office-holders have voted on issues of critical importance to the generally socially conservative members of these congregations, as well as shocking figures like the fact that, according to the most recent data provided by the U.S. Census Bureau, the poverty rate amongst people aged 18-64 is now 30.5% higher than it was when President Johnson launched his famous “War on Poverty” 50 years ago. People in the African-American community, disillusioned and discouraged by the flow of events and obvious shortcomings of the Leftist policies being promulgated by the party which has been running the cities in which most of them live, are looking for something else.
It is a golden opportunity for the Republican Party. There may be some surprises indeed in November.
(For complete 2014 midterm coverage, get your campaign fix on The Grid.)