William Katz:  Urgent Agenda

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FUTURE OF THE GOP? – AT 9:05 A.M. ET:  The Republicans aren't wasting any time preparing for the next electoral fight.  I'm impressed by the way a number of them are trying to learn as much as possible about the recent disaster, hoping to avoid it next time.  At the same time, I see cockiness and arrogance on the part of the Dems, who think they won a famous victory, but didn't.  Indeed, as we've noted, Obama was the only president in American history to be re-elected with less support than he had the first time around.

Many Republicans are concentrating on expanding the party's appeal to minorities.  It's about time.  The conservative message can play very well across the board, if competently and sensitively presented.  Hispanic-Americans like Senator-elect Ted Cruz of Texas and Senator Marco Rubio of Florida are already traveling, firing up the party.  Indian-American Governor Bobby Jindal of Louisiana is offering constructive critiques of the party's perceived narrowness.

And now an old face enters the mix.  Former Congressman J.C. Watts, an African-American, is hinting that he might run for the GOP chairmanship.  He's a popular figure, and was a popular football player before entering politics.  From The Politico:

Former GOP Rep. J.C. Watts says he is being “encouraged” by supporters to run for chairman of the Republican National Committee, a move he says could broaden the party’s appeal to minorities.

Watts is not formally entering the race, and he is not critical of current RNC Chairman Reince Priebus, who has already announced he will second term in the post.

But Watts, an African-American conservative who served in the House from 1994-2002, said the GOP defeat on Election Day demonstrates that Republicans need to broaden their appeal to minority voters, and cannot continue on their current path if the party is to be successful in presidential races.

“My concern right now, and I don’t say this necessarily as a candidate [for RNC chairman], my concern is that as a Republican, every single Republican in America ought to be concerned about what has happened in 2008 and 2012,” Watts said in an interview with POLITICO. “In this business, if you’re not growing, you’re dying.”
Watts would not identify who is lobbying him to challenge Priebus, and reiterated that he has not made a decision to definitely jump into the race.

Watts complained that Republican efforts to reach out to minority groups have not been sustained or consistent during his 20-plus years as a politician, but rather are executed on ad hoc basis - usually in election years. In Watts’ view, and that of many other Republican leaders and party operatives, if the GOP doesn’t dramatically improve its image with black and Hispanic voters, it will not be able to win back the White House.

“These old, tired, pathetic models of saying, ‘Okay, in the black [community], when there’s a presidential election, we will form an African-American Coalition for [Mitt] Romney or [Sen. John] McCain,’ I’ll never do that again. That is a joke, that is so tired,” Watts said. “It’s window dressing to say, ‘African Americans for Romney’ or ‘African-American Coalition’ or ‘African-American Advisory Council.’ That’s insulting to the people that they ask to do it when you don’t put an permanent infrastructure in place to give it credibility.”

According to exit polls, President Barack Obama won 93 percent of African-American voters, and over 70 percent of Hispanic voters, key blocs in his successful run for a second term. Such stark numbers are a major concern for GOP leaders as the party begins to think about the 2014 and 2016 battles for Congress and the White House.

COMMENT:  Watts is largely correct.  The problem goes back a long time.  Outreach to new voter groups has never been a Republican specialty.  When I was young, I lived in communities that were ripe for GOP picking, but Republicans never campaigned there.  I a recent election I saw the Republican candidate for governor picking up a newspaper at a 7-11, in a community where he never otherwise appeared.  Some Republicans, even at the national level, seemed content to lose, as long as they were given some earmarks and some judgeships.

It will take long-term programs, and better candidates at every level, to turn this around.  And, as J.C. Watts says, it will take new attitudes. 

The great thing the Republicans have going for them is the depth of their bench.  Right now the party reminds me of the Dems in 1960.  They had a great group of presidential candidates that year – Jack Kennedy, Henry Jackson, Hubert Humphrey, Stuart Symington, Adlai Stevenson, Lyndon Johnson.  (Compare please with the recent slates in both parties.)  They picked Kennedy, probably not the best qualified, but squeezed through.

I want to hear more from Watts.

December 3, 2012