There are only three black Republicans currently serving in Congress. On Monday, actress and former Fox News contributor Stacey Dash filed paperwork in an attempt to become the fourth. She's running in California’s 44th District, a Democratic stronghold where presidential candidate Hillary Clinton won 83 percent of the vote.
It was almost certainly a coincidence that the former “Clueless” star’s announcement came just before the end of Black History Month, an initiative she has said should not exist.
Almost no Americans of African descent vote for Republican candidates, a fact that is frequently bemoaned by GOP activists and politicians. This is a stark change from the party’s earlier days when a majority of black voters favored Republicans.
The decline of the GOP’s fortunes among black Americans coincides perfectly with the rise of the anti-government form of conservatism favored by the party’s 1964 nominee, Barry Goldwater. In 1960, Richard Nixon earned 32 percent of the African-American vote. Four years later, after Goldwater campaigned on opposing the 1964 Civil Rights Act on freedom of association grounds while courting Southern segregationists, he received just 6 percent.
While the GOP’s infamous “Southern Strategy” is a topic of current historical discussion, the fact that Goldwater’s implicit appeals to white racists were widely controversial within Republican circles is an important detail that has gotten lost in modern-day political history.
Many moderate and liberal Republicans of his day warned against Goldwater’s brand of white Christian identity politics (which perfectly presaged Donald Trump’s present-day version). Black Republicans were among his sharpest critics. Jackie Robinson, the man who integrated major league baseball, wrote numerous columns that ran in black newspapers denouncing the Arizona senator.
“Goldwater and his forces stand for the destruction of everything we hold dear,” Robinson wrote in one essay. “We shall deserve to lose it all if we do not stand up like men to be counted where we have always stood—foremost in the ranks of the fight for freedom.”
One person who agreed with that diagnosis was Edward W. Brooke, who was then running for Senate in Massachusetts as a Republican. Though he remained loyal to the GOP throughout his entire life, in 1964, he refused to endorse Goldwater or even to be seen on the same stage with his party’s nominee.
In a year that turned out to be an epic wipeout for Republicans, Brooke won his election with 62 percent of the vote. His success made him the first black person popularly elected to the Senate.
While he disliked people calling attention to his pioneering achievements (he had previously been the first black person elected as a state attorney general), Brooke also understood that black Americans faced unique struggles and he made numerous attempts to address them. Among other acts, he co-authored the 1968 Fair Housing Act and helped defeat the Supreme Court nominees with records of opposing civil rights. An outspoken advocate for abortion rights, he was also the first Republican to call for the resignation of President Richard Nixon during the Watergate scandal.
Just as the Republicans of former president Dwight Eisenhower’s day stand in stark contrast compared to the Trump-ified GOP, the black Republicans of today are a shadow of their 20th-century predecessors. As right-wing media have repeatedly depicted black voters as lazy or bought off by welfare to explain their shift en masse to the Democratic Party, several prominent black conservatives have pandered to this widespread belief.
In a 2014 appearance on Fox News Channel, Stacey Dash told host Sean Hannity that black Americans have a “plantation mentality.”
“They’re getting money for free. They feel worthless. They’re uneducated. As long as you’re that way, they [Democrats] can keep you under their control,” Dash said. She was so infatuated with the line that she repeated it in a 2016 conversation with Bill O’Reilly.
During an interview on “Fox & Friends” that same year, she also argued that the Black Entertainment Television channel should not exist and that it should not give out awards.
“We have to make up our minds,” she said. “Either we want to have segregation or integration. And if we don’t want segregation, then we need to get rid of channels like BET and the BET Awards and the Image Awards, where you’re only awarded if you’re black. If it were the other way around, we would be up in arms. It’s a double standard.”
Contrary to her assertion, however, non-black people have won BET Awards and NAACP Image trophies.
“Stacey Dash is, sadly, a perfect fit for the current GOP,” Robert A. George, a former Republican coalitions staffer who now is a member of the New York Daily News editorial board told Salon.
George is in a position to know considering that he has been among a much-less-visible number of black conservatives who have been trying for decades to get Republicans to realize that they need to change in order to connect the people who are not white Christians. In 2015, he delivered a speech at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference which urged Republicans to consider the possibility that their antiquated policies and messages were the real reason that black people don’t like voting for them.
“Too often, when a Republican politician speaks in front of an African-American audience, that’s when you start hearing Party of Lincoln, Party of Lincoln, Party of Lincoln, Party of Lincoln,” he said. “I’m glad that you’re a member of the Party of Lincoln and that you think slavery shouldn’t exist. That’s very nice. Now what about the challenges of today?”
He was booed by several audience members, although not as loudly as conservative columnist Mona Charen was last week for daring to argue that Republicans have wrongly given Trump a pass on his long history of sexual harassment.
George wasn’t invited back to address CPAC this year. He did write about it, however, in a column published Monday which discussed an incident in which former Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele was publicly derided as an affirmative action hire by a CPAC spokesman. The representative subsequently apologized for his comment.
In a subsequent interview with Steele on his SiriusXM radio, CPAC’s head organizer Matt Schlapp argued that while the insult was “unfortunate,” it was “understandable” considering how critical Steele has been of Trump.
George’s scorching reaction is worth quoting at length:
So, African-American and other conservatives of color, consider this a cautionary tale: Step out of line and any past service to the movement will be reassessed in a new light. It turns out, you were never really qualified; we just made a terrible decision hiring you because, well, race.
Happy Black History Month, Party of Lincoln!
Given the hugely Democratic nature of California's 44th congressional district, the chances of Dash becoming the next black Republican elected official are low. She might be able to get her old Fox News gig back, however.