The Urban Black Vote, The GOP And How Things Can Change

At National Review, there is a piece by Kevin Williamson today which is worthy of discussion – which is not to say it’s particularly prescient, or altogether accurate in its premise or conclusions.

Williamson marks the death of Elijah Cummings, the horrendously corrupt machine politician who served two decades as the congressman from Baltimore, by lamenting that Republicans have been shut out of the political game in places like the district Cummings represented, and blaming that fact on GOP disinterest in the black vote.

But what might Republicans say to the people of Baltimore who elected Elijah Cummings to office? That their city is a nest of vermin, that “no human being would want to live there”? Baltimore is a mess, but human beings do live there — American human beings, at that. So far, black Americans have remained largely unmoved by Republican promises of tax cuts and regulatory reform. Many black families are with the GOP on school choice, but not enough to pull the “R” lever. And the reason for this ought to be obvious enough: While African Americans may be with the Republican party on this or that issue, they do not believe that the Republican party is with them. But it once was. And it is no great mystery how to change that.

Republicans would like to have more support among black voters. But they despise the cities where many African Americans live and where they predominate politically; Republicans have ruled out cuts to the entitlement programs that disproportionately benefit whites but take a rather more skeptical view of the means-tested social programs that disproportionately benefit African Americans; when there are questions of police misbehavior, Republicans instinctively side with the police; they were hellfire and brimstone on crack but have taken a gentle turn on opioids, which are abused in large measure by rural and suburban whites, etc. And what do Republicans now have to say for themselves?

Well, did you know that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed on disproportionately strong Republican support? Or, Frederick Douglass is an example of somebody who’s done an amazing job that is being recognized more and more.

Remember Gettysburg?

Black unemployment did hit a record low in 2019, and that is to be celebrated. But the steep decline in black unemployment began almost a decade ago. The prosperity gospel is lousy theology but it is very fine politics — done right. “Look what the Mighty Trump hath done for you, poor black folks who aren’t swift enough to understand your own interests!” is not what “done right” means. Vacillating between indifference and condescension is not going to get it done.

Maybe Republicans will just keep saying, “What have Elijah Cummings and his brand of politics ever really done for African Americans?” That’s a fair question, and a fair line of criticism.

But after the criticism — what?

Williamson delves into the history of the civil rights movement, and the fact that Republicans were its prime movers all the while losing ground to the Democrats while the latter contained the people fighting in Congress and in state legislatures to preserve the constitutionally and humanistically infirm Jim Crow era.

But he leaves out much. And as such, Williamson’s premise, which is fundamentally correct, is flawed. Particularly where is matters, which is his exhortation to the GOP to “begin trying” to pull in the black vote.

Chiefly, where he goes wrong is in ascribing a monolithic character to the black community. That’s understandable, as it’s widely recognized that somewhere around nine in ten black voters support Democrats over Republicans at the polling precinct – which is as monolithic a vote as you can get.

But this is recognized as fact because analysis of precinct results shows it to be so.

The actual share of the black vote that Republicans have access to is a little murkier.

We suspect this because black Americans, particularly the middle class kind, behave pretty similarly to Americans of other ethnicities. Namely, when they get a little education that leads to a productive job and they make a little money, they generally move out of crime- and poverty-infested urban neighborhoods in favor of suburban locales which are a lot whiter and more Republican than the places they came from.

And that makes middle class Black America a bit harder to pin down. You can’t crack open the voting machines and go line by line trying to figure out which suburban Democrat voters, or suburban Republican voters, are black. We know that nationally blacks are some 13 percent of the electorate, but that doesn’t mean we can go to a suburban Republican precinct where they might be 10 percent and conclude they all voted Democrat and made up a third of the Democrat candidate’s 30 percent of the vote.

That 90 percent number is derived from looking at predominantly black precincts which consistently deliver that much and more to the Democrat Party. But this isn’t apartheid South Africa, and all the black voters in America aren’t shoe-horned just into those precincts.

I don’t bring this up in some effort to say there is this vast hidden black Republican vote out there. I don’t think there is. I do think that suburban, middle-class black Americans are considerably more likely to vote Republican than urban lower-class or working-class blacks are. That should be pretty obvious.

With a caveat, though, which is that middle class black America got that way, in significant measure, through working government jobs. As such, if you’re a postal employee or you work at the Department of Motor Vehicles, you probably aren’t going to vote for the party which espouses tax cuts and smaller government. If you work for a private company, you’re black and you make a respectable income, chances aren’t half bad that you might be a Republican voter – but you probably won’t tell too many people that since you aren’t supposed to vote that way.

You aren’t supposed to vote that way because the Democrats over the past 50 years have done everything they could to slander Republicans as racists and worse. From blaming Reagan’s CIA for the crack epidemic to claiming today’s southern Republicans are the same people as the Dixiecrats of 60 or 70 years ago (how long do they think voters live, anyway?), a gigantic part of the Democrats’ messaging, particularly that of black Democrat politicians amplified by the partisan legacy media, has been aimed at driving a social wedge between the Republican Party and black voters.

They do it because of something Williamson recognizes – which is that if the Democrats’ share of the black vote should even drop as low as two-thirds, they would be finished as a national political party. Consider every purple state, in which there is usually a big city with a large black population whose monolithic Democrat vote either swamps the GOP late on election night or doesn’t. Philadelphia in Pennsylvania, Detroit in Michigan, Milwaukee in Wisconsin, Chicago in Illinois, St. Louis in Missouri, Cleveland in Ohio and so on. If the black vote were to only be 80 percent Democrat, or even 70 percent, all of those become red states and the Democrat Party becomes finished in its current configuration.

And everybody knows this. Republicans who know it, which we can count Williamson as one, have schemed and plotted for years about how to crack into that black vote, and the frustration inherent in it not happening commonly leads to articles like the one he wrote today.

But here’s the truth. Republicans are decades away from cracking open Baltimore as a fountain of votes and as such it is a waste of time, energy and money to attempt to crack it open. The Democrats simply have too much invested in the black community as a vote-farm to ever let it go. They will match or exceed any Republican effort to wedge open the inner cities as competitive territories.

Which is a profound weakness of the Democrat Party. Because in their never-ending willingness to ratchet up the pandering, slander and unhinged rhetoric aimed at holding their current share of the black vote they’re alienating other parts of the electorate.

Donald Trump won Pennsylvania, Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin and Missouri in 2016, you know. He’s quite likely to win them all again. Why? Because working-class white voters are fed up with the Democrats’ pandering and identity politics and increasingly don’t want any part of it. That party’s Hard Left turn, precipitated as it is by politicians from the east and west coasts both in their presidential primary and in their impeachment Congress, doesn’t help the situation.

Meanwhile, Trump’s approval rating in the black community, while it isn’t sky-high by any means, is better than any Republican president’s since Reagan. And he’s even more well-liked among Hispanics.

Trump pulled no punches on Cummings when the latter was alive, and he was called every name in the book for it. Ditto for when he attacked Ilhan Omar for her anti-American bilge. And black voters don’t seem to mind all that much – they seem to have a better opinion of Trump than they did of previous Republican politicians who tiptoed around the black community. The fact that black America is doing better economically under Trump than under any other modern president (or any president in the nation’s history, for that matter) might have something to do with that.

Trump actually seems to be doing better with the black electorate than he’s doing with Kevin Williamson. That’s something to consider given that Williamson’s critique of Trump is often that his economic policies are nonsense. Trump’s trade war with China, for example, is a particular problem for Williamson, who thinks tariffs are an atrocity. His immigration policies are another item Williamson has taken issue with.

Except those policies are actually somewhat helpful to black America. We’re now in the midst of a major labor shortage, and that is forcing companies to invest in parts of the workforce they’ve previously ignored. Which includes the black community. With seven million unfilled jobs in this economy for lack of skilled workers to fill them, the pressure is now on corporate America to train people to do those jobs – and some of those people are currently sitting on stoops in urban ghettoes who’ve never been in demand before. That’s a profoundly positive change for the black community, and while it might not mean Baltimore will turn Republican it could well mean growing surburbs where newly-middle class blacks are moving will stay Republican as they increase in population. And then Baltimore no longer outweighs those suburbs when Maryland’s votes are counted up.

That’s what a tight immigration policy will do. Bringing home a few manufacturing plants from China which open up semi-skilled jobs lower-class folks can get to access the economic ladder will do the same.

Like we said, black Americans joining the middle class in the suburbs are not the same as the people in Baltimore,  Cleveland, South Chicago or North Baton Rouge. They might have been at some point, but not necessarily anymore once they’ve joined the middle class. Behaviorally and psychographically they are gettable for the GOP – and the policies which can get them are very much the policies that Trump is pursuing.

It’s interesting that Williamson commonly criticizes those policies while then criticizing the GOP’s lack of interest in pursuing the black vote. One might interpret that as Williamson having little idea what he’s talking about.

We’ll know for sure in 2020 when we see Trump go for re-election against a Liz Warren or Bernie Sanders. The bet here is he’ll do a little better with black voters and a whole lot better with everyone else.

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