Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus has always been a man ahead of his own party. Whether for political expediency or sincere ideological belief, he has advocated for major outreach to the African American and Latino voting constituencies since he took the reins from Michael Steele in 2011.
Under his leadership the GOP submitted to an “autopsy” after the 2012 election, where it was determined that failure to offer enough tickets into the Republican “Big Tent” for minorities was harming the party.
Republicans have recently put together significant community and voter outreach programs such as “Committed to Community: Engage, Empower, Uplift” in Ohio, which partnered with RadioOne to connect with African American voters.
This week at the National Urban League Convention, during remarks at a leadership luncheon, Priebus even uttered the phrase, “Black Lives Matter”, something that Democratic candidate Martin O’Malley seems to struggle with contextually as of late.
Clearly Priebus is on a mission, but it could be a Mission Impossible.
There’s scarcely an African American convention, conference and likely even backyard barbecue that Reince Priebus hasn’t been to in the three years since the 2012 presidential election.
Having met with Priebus at a session with minority journalists during the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington, I can attest to the consistency of his efforts to transform the GOP’s attitude towards reaching out to African Americans.
Keeping to form, his remarks at the Urban League were well received and well intentioned, deftly linking the removal of the confederate flag in South Carolina to the larger issues facing the African American community in 2015:
“We can’t be satisfied with just getting rid of the symbols of discrimination and inequality. We can’t be satisfied until we have ended injustice in our schools, in our job market, and in our legal system because black lives matter. Not just when a tragedy makes the news, all the time,“ said Priebus.
"...you still have too many Republicans at the state and national level who would rather engage in legislative jujitsu to suppress African American turnout than put in the empathy, hard work and policy that it takes to earn 15 percent of the African American vote on Election Day."
And all of this is wonderful. The problem is that in 2015, just like in the past, Reince Priebus appears to be on an island in his own party. For every heartfelt speech he delivers to the Urban League, there are state level Republican official arguing to keep the Confederate flag flying.
Priebus can muster the strength to say #BlackLivesMatter every week but it doesn’t counteract the dismissive way that Jeb Bush has referred to the movement, or inoculate the GOP from every conservative commentator doing rhetorical flips to blame Sandra Bland for her own murder. And while Committed to Community voter outreach program is a great start, Governor John Kasich and his Secretary of State are still suppressing the African American vote in Ohio.
The problem is not Reince Priebus, he’s doing his job. The problem is that you still have too many Republicans at the state and national level who would rather engage in legislative jujitsu to suppress African American turnout than put in the empathy, hard work and policy that it takes to earn 15 percent of the African American vote on Election Day.
At some point, perhaps after losing another national election in 2016, the Republican Party at the grassroots level will finally have to listen to their party chair.
Perhaps they’ll realize that if you want to be a national party, not a regional one winning through attrition, low turnout and gerrymandering, that "#AllVotesMatter".
And when that happens, watch out, political history just may look back on Reince Priebus as one of the more transformative leaders in GOP history.