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From Diamond and Silk to Kanye West: Why Republican efforts to convert black voters are failing

By relying so heavily on stereotypes and gimmicks for outreach, the GOP is blowing its chance to win over Americans disappointed by Democratic failures.
Image: Diamond and Silk Meet Donald Trump
From left, Lynette Hardaway (Diamond) and Rochelle Richardson (Silk) pose with President Donald Trump in the Oval Office on February 13, 2018 in Washington.Shealah Craighead / White House

Trump Republicans are in the market for African American supporters. Some would even say desperately so. How else to explain the new Diamond and Silk movie “Dummycrats,” which had its one-day theatrical release last week?

Far from Oscar fodder, or even the MTV awards, the film is part of a broader, recent trend in which mostly white conservatives have sought out and elevated a series of black surrogates, hoping that these surrogates' often unintelligible, anti-liberal rantings will siphon black voters away from the Democratic Party. With midterm elections margins expected to be razor thin, this effort has taken on a renewed sense of urgency.

Kanye West is arguably the most high-profile of these new ambassadors. West, who has taken to sporting a MAGA hat, capped off his September 29 performance on “Saturday Night Live” with a long-winded, pro-Trump monologue claiming he was being bullied for supporting the president. West doubled down with an even more meandering speech during his October 11 visit to the Oval Office.

Unlike his wife, Kim Kardashian West, who visited the White House in May and successfully persuaded Trump to commute the sentence of 63-year-old grandmother Alice Johnson, a nonviolent drug offender who spent 21 years in prison, Kanye’s brand of advocacy has accomplished very little. Though he was to address the president about violence in Chicago and other important topics, West instead dissolved into a rant that seemed to take even Trump by surprise.

West’s antics haven’t phased the overwhelmingly white Trump supporters who champion him, though, and he even has a few black defenders. Writing for The Daily Caller, the conservative site founded by Tucker Carlson and Neil Patel in 2010, contributor Nick Fitzgerald, who is white, wrote an article based on West called "The Left’s New Plantation — Intellectual Slavery.”

“What has West done to merit such vitriol?” asked Fitzgerald. “The answer is frightening and simple: He is thinking for himself. He’s wearing a MAGA hat. And he has influence.” Of course, it’s highly doubtful Fitzgerald would've been so quick to defend West had the rapper used that same “influence” to claim Trump “doesn’t care about black people” — as he did during a telethon for Hurricane Katrina victims in 2005.

The GOP’s insistence that they are not just a party of rich, white people has led them to latch on to any black supporter they can get.

In short, the GOP’s insistence that they are not just a party of rich, white people has led them to latch on to any black supporters they can get. This dynamic seems even more obvious when you consider their strange embrace of Diamond and Silk.

Diamond and Silk rose to GOP stardom as Trump surrogates during his successful 2016 presidential bid. The plainspoken sisters Lynnette Hardaway and Rochelle Richardson, North Carolina natives, have been welcomed on several Fox News shows, including “Hannity, “The Ingraham Angle” and “Fox & Friends.” In April, they even testified before Congress about Facebook allegedly blocking and censoring their page, prompting Rep. Darrell Issa, R-CA, to come to their defense.

The pair's mainstream support is surprising, but not because their talking points often feel divorced from reality. Just a few years ago, the conservative establishment would have surely shunned the duo based on their flamboyant dress and hairstyles alone. Republicans barely took one-time Republican Party leader Michael Steele seriously.

Clearly, this lack of polish or thoughtfulness doesn't bother the GOP, however; Diamond and Silk have been accepted into the fold because of their race and their willingness to publicly and profusely support Donald Trump when very few other black people will. As black women, the Democrats’ most loyal base, Diamond and Silk are arguably even more critical to the image Republican leaders are desperately trying to cultivate. This is perhaps why Diamond and Silk have been specifically praised for their aggression towards prominent Trump critic Rep. Maxine Waters.

That support undoubtedly is also why Diamond and Silk now have their own movie, “Dummycrats.” The full-length film was theatrically released for one night only on October 15, but can now be screened on Vimeo.

Waters and fellow Democrat Rep. Nancy Pelosi are the film’s biggest targets. While mostly unnoticed by the mainstream press, “Dummycrats” did get a few positive reviews in more conservative corners of the web. Writing for the conservative site Newsmax, Michael Clark claimed the film would “wake-up undecided voters.” Clark applauds the film’s lighter tone and lists what he sees as its best moments — moments that of course “expose” prominent Democrats.

Candace Owens is another woman who has used her personal story to rise among the conservative ranks. (Owens has Kanye West to thank for some of her prominence; the rapper brought her along during his infamous TMZ appearance when he proclaimed slavery a choice.) According to Buzzfeed, the Connecticut native was anti-Trump as recently as 2015, but now she too seems to be cashing in on her Trumpian enlightenment. Officially, she works as the Director of Communications for Turning Point USA, a conservative advocacy group. But Owens, who got her start sharing pro-Trump speeches on YouTube and social media, may have a future on the small screen. Van Jones even told NBC News that she could be the next Megyn Kelly.

Owens (and Kanye West and Diamond and Silk) are right about one thing, however: With President Barack Obama no longer in office, the cracks in the Democrats' African American voting block are showing. Stephen Thrasher, a black, gay writer who says he typically votes Democrat, shared this discontent with The Guardian last year. Referencing an article by Republican political strategist Patrick Ruffini, Thrasher notes that Democratic support has slipped among black voters. “Other than not being as crudely racist, xenophobic and misogynist as the Republican party, the contemporary Democratic party offers little to African Americans,” Thrasher wrote.

One of the main reasons for this disillusionment is the Obama administration’s inability to make a significant dent in structural racism over its eight years in office.

One of the main reasons for this disillusionment is the Obama administration’s inability to make a significant dent in structural racism over its eight years in office. Worse, there's the perception that the Democratic Party hasn’t really taken African American needs and concerns into consideration, a party leaders have largely taken the black vote for granted. Current Democratic National Committee chairman Tom Perez admitted as much at an Atlanta fundraiser for Stacey Abrams, who could become the nation’s first ever black female governor if she wins in Georgia. “African Americans — our most loyal constituency — we all too frequently took for granted,” Perez said.

And yet, by relying so heavily on stereotypes and gimmicks for outreach, the GOP is blowing its opportunity to win over black supporters. They truly make it hard for sensible people to take them seriously, whether acting officially or in a rogue capacity. Take this Arkansas radio ad attempting to rally black support for Republican Congressman French Hill. The ad argued that the treatment of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh proved that if elected, “white Democrats will be lynching black folk again.” The ad, which Hill has since disavowed, was funded by dubious organization Black Americans for the President’s Agenda, a South Carolina-based, Trump-supporting PAC. The PAC is co-founded by Vernon Robinson, who is black, but largely funded by wealthy white people, according to Slate.

But if the GOP does adopt a more practical strategy, not even Kanye West’s star power is bright enough to obscure an essential truth: The Trump administration, and Republicans in the last several election cycles, have not been good for black people.

A recent report released by Prosperity Now, a D.C.-based nonprofit dedicated to expanding economic opportunity for low-income households and communities, and the Institute for Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP), also D.C.-based, shows that Trump tax cuts have disproportionately helped white people. White households received $218 billion of the $275 billion tax cuts, or 80 percent. More than 40 percent of the beneficiaries of Trump’s Tax Cuts and Jobs Act are white households in the top five percent of earners, according to the report.

Plus with Stacey Abrams and Andrew Gillum running competitive races for historic wins as governor of Georgia and Florida respectively, the Democrats are winning back young black voters. Proving you have something to offer is a winning strategy, it seems. Calling liberals — including millions of black voters — “Dummycrats” is probably not.