Everyone expected it, no? When you’re addressing a group that’s supporting the other guy to the tune of 95 percent, bet on there being a few awkward moments.
I doubt he’ll win any votes for showing up but it’s worth his while to do it anyway for two reasons. One: It’s a gesture of outreach. The left will, as always, demagogue him more viciously on race the closer we get to election day (especially if O starts to fall behind); this is Romney’s way of trying to show good faith and inoculate himself against the charge. Liberals won’t care but some swing voters might. Two: It’s catnip for the media. An event that’s guaranteed to end with a black audience criticizing the Republican nominee for president is as good as it gets if you’re among the 98 percent or whatever of reporters who are liberal. BuzzFeed’s clearly enjoying it bunches, and Think Progress is being as Think Progress-y as you’d expect. But look at it this way: How often is a Romney speech the big news story of the day? This is a windfall of earned media for his stump speech at a moment when The One has nothing much going on to distract from it. Romney knows how unpopular ObamaCare is with most of the public and he knows that the media would go nuts if he got booed by the NAACP for criticizing it, and so he did it. And now every newscast in the country tonight will have footage of him talking about how bad the boondoggler-in-chief’s big health-care program is. The press gets what it wants and Romney gets what he wants. Great.
“We expected that [the booing],” Romney told Fox Business Network’s Neil Cavuto in a interview set to air later in the day. “I am going to give the same message to the NAACP that I give across the country which is that Obamacare is killing jobs, and if jobs is the priority, we are going to have to replace it with something that actually holds down healthcare costs, as opposed to something that causes more spending for the government and more spending for American families.”
In a statement after his address, NAACP President Benjamin Todd Jealous called Romney’s positions “antithetical” to the organization’s interests in a statement.
“While we are glad that Governor Romney recognized the power of the black electorate, he laid out an agenda that was antithetical to many of our interests,”said Jealous. “His criticism of the Affordable Care Act — legislation that will improve access to quality health care for millions — signals his fundamental misunderstanding of the needs of many African Americans.”
This has to be the only event in American political life where a candidate is cordially invited — and accepts — full in the knowledge that he’ll be denounced by the organizers immediately afterward as antithetical to their agenda. Emmanuel Cleaver, chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, said flat out after Romney’s speech that he shouldn’t have bothered going. But he had to go, of course: Turning down the invite would be spun as prima facie proof of racism. Better to go, make your pitch, and then be judged a racist. That way, at least you get some news coverage and some grudging respect from the media for having engaged an audience that’s voting against you.
As for the bigger picture, wise words from J.C. Watts:
“With all due respect to Governor Romney, he’s probably doing it to check the box,” Watts told CBS News. “Having a Republican candidate speak at the NAACP convention is like trying to build a house starting at the roof. If you don’t have a foundation, the roof isn’t going to stand.”
Watts argues that the Republican Party is not serious about dedicating the time and money necessary to establishing serious ties with leaders in the black community. He wonders why, for example, the GOP isn’t working harder to form strong relationships with southern black religious leaders. “Republicans think that the NAACP is the only voice in the black community. It is a voice in the black community. But it’s not the only voice.”
“The establishment wonders why we can’t get more of the black vote,” he added. “It’s because it’s not doing the things necessary to establish a deeper relationship with the black community. Most black people don’t think alike. Most black people just vote alike.”
Ben Jealous’s perfunctory condemnation notwithstanding, the audience was gracious to Romney for most of the speech, with some attendees saying afterward that they respected him for coming even though they disagreed with him on basically everything. (The speech ended with a standing ovation.) In fact, via Mediaite, there was a notable applause line during the speech itself. Watch this and you’ll see what Watts means.