After the shocking loss in the November election, Republicans are once again considering whether to change leadership at the top. Reince Priebus wants a second term as RNC chair and still has considerable support for another go, but apparently some committee members have begun recruiting alternative candidates, among them former Congressman J.C. Watts. Watts tells Politico that he’s not sure he’ll run, but he’s interested:
Watts, an African-American conservative who served in the House from 1994-2002, said the GOP defeat on Election Day demonstrates that Republicans need to broaden their appeal to minority voters, and cannot continue on their current path if the party is to be successful in presidential races.
“My concern right now, and I don’t say this necessarily as a candidate [for RNC chairman], my concern is that as a Republican, every single Republican in America ought to be concerned about what has happened in 2008 and 2012,” Watts said in an interview with POLITICO. “In this business, if you’re not growing, you’re dying.”
Watts would not identify who is lobbying him to challenge Priebus, and reiterated that he has not made a decision to definitely jump into the race.
Watts also says that he believes the RNC needs to fundamentally rethink its “ad hoc” approach to outreach:
Watts complained that Republican efforts to reach out to minority groups have not been sustained or consistent during his 20-plus years as a politician, but rather are executed on ad hoc basis – usually in election years. In Watts’ view, and that of many other Republican leaders and party operatives, if the GOP doesn’t dramatically improve its image with black and Hispanic voters, it will not be able to win back the White House.
“These old, tired, pathetic models of saying, ‘Okay, in the black [community], when there’s a presidential election, we will form an African-American Coalition for [Mitt] Romney or [Sen. John] McCain,’ I’ll never do that again. That is a joke, that is so tired,” Watts said. “It’s window dressing to say, ‘African Americans for Romney’ or ‘African-American Coalition’ or ‘African-American Advisory Council.’ That’s insulting to the people that they ask to do it when you don’t put an permanent infrastructure in place to give it credibility.”
I think Priebus did a pretty good job, considering the state of the RNC when he first took over. The organization was deeply in debt, and fundraising was in disarray. The RNC didn’t have a credible GOTV effort in 2010 in the week before Election Day in those midterms, and ended up relying out outside groups to drive their message. They were better prepared in this cycle, but just got out-organized by Team Obama and the DNC.
That said, I’m a big fan of J. C. Watts for precisely the kind of insight he has here. Republicans cannot compete with the kind of lackluster effort that has been made in urban centers. It isn’t just the infrastructure that’s the problem, though; it’s also a lack of vision and specific policies from candidates and the party to put conservative principles to work in these communities to make the lives of voters better. We need both infrastructure and policies, on an ongoing basis, and not just — as Watts says — in the last few months before an election. Republicans have to make themselves part of these communities, not just occasional tourists.
Perhaps Watts won’t run for RNC chair, or the RNC will think someone else will serve better. They’d better find a way to put Watts in position to make his insights a reality, though, if the GOP wants to compete in future elections.