Film director Woody Allen once famously said, “Eighty percent of success is showing up.” I imagine this is what GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney had in mind when he showed up to speak at the NAACP national convention in Houston this week.
Romney knows he has to peel away at least some Black votes from President Obama to have even an outside chance of winning this election. I don’t think any reasonable Republican expects a seismic shift in the numbers, but maybe if they could just get Obama’s projected 95 percent of the Black vote down to under 90 percent, they’d consider it a major coup, and from there, hey, anything can happen.
I’ll give Romney credit where credit is due. It took a lot of gumption for him to stand in front of that audience and vow to repeal Obamacare, slash education, and set the cause of civil rights back 75 years. He took the boos, the jeers, and the catcalls like a man, and endured what I’m sure was one of the most uncomfortable events in his extremely comfortable life.
Probably adding to his trepidation in front of the NAACP audience is the fact that he knows Republican outreach in minority communities ranges from nonexistent to open hostility. You have only to look at Arizona, where the frenzy to root out illegal brown people has reached such a fever pitch that they detained their own former governor for questioning because he’s, well, brown.
The images of watermelons, bone-through-the-nose witch doctors, and dressed up monkeys on their posters and signs at rallies tells you all you need to know about how the tea party-dominated GOP feels about Black people. Since Obama took office, the racists have shed any semblance of subtlety they may have once had, and gone into full-tilt skinhead mode. If you think the NAACP audience was rude in booing Romney a few times, try to imagine how the president would have been received at a meeting of the John Birch Society.
Now that they’ve angered, alienated, disenfranchised, and marginalized women, Blacks, browns, gays, the poor, the elderly, and anyone else who isn’t a Caucasian male millionaire, the GOP suddenly realizes the numbers they have left won’t win a national election. So what can they do?
Outreach, that’s what. Or at least, what passes for outreach when you’d really prefer to avoid altogether the people you’re forced to reach out to.
In the Republicans’ case, it means look forward this summer to images of Romney eating Cuban sandwiches in Miami, wearing a sombrero in San Diego, and showing up at Willie Mae’s Scotch House in New Orleans for fried chicken — probably wearing a hoodie.
They already know the lame attempt at outreach won’t do much good, but they’re obligated to put forth a cursory effort. Romney won’t make even the smallest dent in Obama’s numbers among African-American voters, and they know it. But since you can’t take any vote for granted in a tight race, he’s got to go places he doesn’t want to go, and smile in the faces people who know he doesn’t have their best interests at heart.
You saw the pictures of Romney back in May when he visited the Guion Bluford School in West Philly. I don’t believe I’ve seen a man so stiff and ill at ease, especially around children. He looked like he was waiting for a colonoscopy, not being serenaded by enthusiastic elementary school students.
Nervous? You bet. The last time Mitt Romney was around that many Black people was when he was — aw, who am I kidding? He’s never been around Black people, and it showed.
When the GOP convention was here in Philly in 2004, Republicans made a big deal of calling themselves, ‘The Party of inclusion.’ It’s even funnier eight years later, seeing as how they’re no closer to actual diversity than they were 50 years ago.
I was there for that convention, and at any given moment there were more Black people on stage than there were in the audience. I was also stopped by security volunteers and asked to show my press credentials an average of every 15 minutes or so. I remember saying many things about the GOP that week, but “party of inclusion” wasn’t one of them.
If Woody Allen was right, then the Republicans can count themselves 80 percent successful at reaching out to members of the Black community.
At least Romney showed up.
Daryl Gale is the Philadelphia Tribune's city editor.