GOP attempts at black outreach are inconsistent and repeatedly undone by inadvisable strategic communication choices and a basic callousness about the black experience in America. Jeb Bush’s recent comment that he would give African Americans “hope and aspiration” instead of bribing them with “free stuff” is a prime example. This sentiment — one that casts the black electorate as a soulless and indolent bloc up for sale to the highest bidder — is as pervasive among some Republicans as it is spurious.
But the blame does not fall solely on the Republican party. Black voters have allowed themselves to be cordoned off into the Democratic party. Obviously, it was an easy choice for any rational, well-informed, and newly empowered black voter in the 1960s to prefer the Democratic party once President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society legislation further enshrined into law blacks’ equality and rights of citizenship. But since then, partisan loyalty has kept blacks from confronting both parties with policy demands and from forcing a competition between the two parties for their votes.
This is the current state of the African-American electorate. The Republican party ignores it and the Democratic party takes it for granted. They have done so for years. “The painful truth is that in 1972, presidential candidates are either taking the black vote for granted or, worse, they just don’t give a damn,” as Newsweek political correspondent Stephan Lesher put it in the New York Times over four decades ago.