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The GOP Stumbles On Minority Outreach (Again)

In this photo, crowds of people walk toward Selma after taking a symbolic walk across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, Sunday, March 8, 2015, in Selma, Ala. (Gerald Herbert/AP)MoreCloseclosemore
In this photo, crowds of people walk toward Selma after taking a symbolic walk across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, Sunday, March 8, 2015, in Selma, Ala. (Gerald Herbert/AP)

In March 2013, a shaken Reince Priebus delivered a stark postmortem detailing the Republican Party’s failures in the 2012 national elections. Among the many mistakes listed by Priebus, the party’s national chairman, were woefully insufficient outreach efforts to African-American and Hispanic voters.

As a remedy, Priebus and a blue-chip GOP panel called for a "consistent commitment" approach to minorities entailing "on-the-ground, granular, detailed, community-based" relationship building, along with the need to “embrace and champion comprehensive immigration reform.”

Two years later, in the span of a week, the party’s national leaders tore these recommendations to shreds.

With 2016 campaign jockeying well underway, the Republican missteps of the past week may loom large, at least among the minority voters the GOP claims to be wooing.

First, U.S. House Speaker John Boehner and his riotous caucus tried, and failed, to torpedo President Obama’s executive action providing amnesty to certain illegal immigrants.

Then came word that not a single member of the House Republican leadership would attend the three-day event commemorating the 1965 civil rights march in Selma, Alabama.

So much for on-the-ground, granular, detailed, community-based relationship building. As a member of the Congressional Black Caucus put it, the (all-white) leadership “lost an opportunity to show the American people that they care.”

What say you now, Chairman Priebus?

To be fair, 20 non-leadership House and Senate Republicans attended the event, along with former President George W. Bush. And U.S. Rep. and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, reacting to building media criticism, announced late Friday that he would travel to Selma.

It didn’t matter. Nothing could veil the dismal optics of McCarthy’s last-minute shift and the absence of a single 2016 Republican presidential aspirant.

President Barack Obama, center, walks as he holds hands with Amelia Boynton Robinson, who was beaten during "Bloody Sunday," as they and the first family and others including Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga,, left of Obama, walk across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala. for the 50th anniversary of “Bloody Sunday," a landmark event of the civil rights movement, Saturday, March 7, 2015. (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)
President Barack Obama, center, walks as he holds hands with Amelia Boynton Robinson, who was beaten during "Bloody Sunday," as they and the first family and others including Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga,, left of Obama, walk across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala. for the 50th anniversary of “Bloody Sunday," a landmark event of the civil rights movement, Saturday, March 7, 2015. (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

Though the Hispanic community may not be uniformly happy with Obama’s action, they know he acted, and they know that Boehner’s Republicans tried to undo his action while offering no alternative.

And the African-American community, already aggrieved at the snub of the movie "Selma" at the Academy Awards, were snubbed again by the very people who have spent the months since the November elections crowing about how American voters demanded a new direction in Washington.

Apparently that new direction didn’t guide GOP leaders to a small community in Alabama that played a storied role in America’s civil rights movement.

With 2016 campaign jockeying well underway, the Republican missteps of the past week may loom large, at least among the minority voters the GOP claims to be wooing. Obama’s victories — first, his unharmed immigration action and, second, his presence at Selma amid the absence of top Republicans — were hardly of the Frank Underwood, subtle-stiletto variety. Picture Obama walking to Capital Hill and, in full view of Republicans, prying open a giant bear trap. Then picture Republicans saying, “Okay…first we’ll put one foot in, and then the other.” Picture Obama and his aides watching in joyful wonder.

Former White House spokesman Ari Fleischer, a member of the panel that issued the 2012 election postmortem, called Mitt Romney’s 27 percent share of Hispanic voters a “clear two-by-four to the head.” Republicans, he said, could never win again if they put up such soft Hispanic numbers. Priebus announced the creation of an “inclusion council” to improve listening and communication between the GOP and minority groups. “We’ve done a real lousy job sometimes of bragging about the success we’ve had” with Hispanics and other minorities, Priebus said.

Perhaps the Romney defeat postmortem got trampled amid post-2014 hubris, or maybe the Party from the start had no interest in embracing its recommendations.

Eighteen months later, Priebus was vowing to block Obama’s immigration plan. This past January he was struggling to explain why Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst made no mention of immigration reform in her State of the Union rebuttal.

The disconnect between 2013 Republican laments and 2015 Republican actions might be attributable to the 2014 Republican electoral victories. Perhaps the Romney defeat postmortem got trampled amid post-2014 hubris, or maybe the party from the start had no interest in embracing its recommendations.

Whatever the reason, the party’s leaders are proving once again that they are blind to how they are perceived by minority voters, and that they remain hopelessly behind the Democrats in decoding — and exploiting — the new math of the American electorate.

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Jim Borghesani Cognoscenti contributor
Jim Borghesani is president of Primepoint Strategic Media. He began his career as a reporter at the Patriot Ledger and the Boston Business Journal.

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