There is no white Republican elected official today who is coming close to Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul’s effort to reach out to black voters.
When the GOP opened an outreach office in Detroit, Paul was there. Earlier this month, he spoke about education reform to a group of African-Americans. Last year, Paul gave a speech at historically black university, Howard University, where he owned up to the party’s failure to connect with black voters. And he has taken positions that have irked some in the GOP, including discussing voter suppression efforts and the failures of mandatory minimums in the criminal justice system.
What Paul is doing is not going to these venues and waving the GOP flag. He’s raising issues that are in the wheelhouse of black voters and, at least, getting them to listen to his perspective.
Critics, namely hardcore Democrats, see Paul as nothing more than a charlatan trying to bolster his credentials in advance of a 2016 presidential run. OK, fine. Maybe that is the case. But black voters can’t on one hand say Democrats take us for granted, and then when a white Republican extends his hand, we can’t cut it off.
I’ve long maintained that the GOP is allergic to black voters. Instead of seeing them as constituents and potential allies, GOP candidates are uncomfortable in groups where there are lots of blacks, are quick to tout the GOP is the party of Lincoln that freed the slaves (please, stop with that!), and seemingly clueless about the issues black voters care about.
Paul isn’t speaking before largely black crowds and saying, “I care about these issues, and what you care about, save it for someone else.” No, he’s doing what any smart politician should do with an audience that doesn’t trust him or his party: Lay the issues on the table, find common ground, acknowledge the differences, and then get to work.
Look, the GOP’s history since 1964 with African-Americans hasn’t been good.
Roland S. Martin is senior political analyst for TV One and author of the book “The First: President Barack Obama’s Road to the White House as Originally Reported by Roland S. Martin.” Please visit his website at http://www.RolandSMartin.com.