The center-right movement hasn’t built enough social capital with African-Americans and Hispanics to ask for their votes, according to Derrick Wilburn, founder of American Conservatives of Color and Rocky Mountain Black Conservatives.
“Talking about how we get your votes is a challenging conversation,” Wilburn said. “We can’t get across the bridge of policy until we first build relationships.”
An African-American, Wilburn said he agrees with the assessment by Jason Riley, author of Please Stop Helping Us: How Liberals Make It Harder For Blacks To Succeed, that a history of benign neglect hinders electoral inroads with black voters. Riley argues this stemmed largely from electoral expediency; black voters were such an entrenched Democratic constituency that to forge campaign victories, Republicans could afford to bypass significant investment and focus on toss-up voters. This changed as America’s demographics changed.
“Someone at some point somewhere made a conscious decision that ‘We can’t take those votes, we shouldn’t bother,’” Wilburn said. “Whoever make that decision was extraordinarily short sighted. And it’s not just for that reason, ‘Yes you want to win.’ Obviously you’ve got to get people into office. We all understand that you’ve got to win. But if we call ourselves conservatives and look at the conditions that ethnic minorities live in in our inner cities, and you’ve got two liquor stores in every block, failing schools, crime, drug-ridden neighborhoods, people sleeping on the street. If we can look at people living in those conditions and not be moved to want to improve those conditions then you’ve got to stop calling yourself conservative.”
Source: Pew Research Center
Wilburn trains candidates and activists in outreach to black and Hispanic voters. His message focuses on five concrete steps. First, “Join up, and show up.” He recommends center-right leaders find ethnic minority organizations in their communities and become members, whether that’s the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Urban League, and so forth.
“You’ve got to start showing up and developing name and face recognition,” he said. “For 50 years what the Republican Party’s essentially done is parachute people, six weeks before the election, saying ‘Oh, by the way we care about you.’ That’s not outreach, that’s an insult … We’re not there yet, we’ve got to first start developing relationships and then talking about why our plan is better.”
Second, he suggests forming a clergy council, a committee made up of pastors, priests, and leaders of faith community in the district. “Community of faith is a very powerful thing,” Wilburn said. “When you have a relationship with a pastor, you have a relationship with 200 families. That’s an important influencer, that if you at least have a cordial influence, that starts something.”
Third, Wilburn recommends attending social and cultural events in the district, whether that’s a parade celebrating Cinco de Mayo or Martin Luther King, Jr. “There’s no reason why GOP members shouldn’t be showing up,” he said. “Those are powerful places to see and be seen.” He said that at the recent MLK parade in Denver, his organization turned out about 100 members. “Imagine if Republicans from Providence, Rhode Island to San Diego, every Republican in every major city had a presence of 100, 200 or 500 people,” he said. “That would start to move the needle.”
Instead of spending more money, Republicans need “more shoe leather”
A problem Wilburn sees among Republicans attempting to implement his fourth recommendation, hosting townhall meetings to listen to minority needs, is that they typically host meetings at GOP headquarters, where attendance is sparse. “Since minorities do not come to your meetings, start taking your meetings to them,” he advises. Wilburn was critical of the GOP, saying too often its solution to attracting minority solutions is to spend more money, when instead “You need more shoe leather.”
Lastly, Wilburn counsels leaders to start attending ethnic minority churches and forge authentic relationships based on family and shared values. “Churches are segregated, sad but true,” he said. “Before you start asking them how to vote, how about you first ask them how their kids are?”
Wilburn said conservatives and Republicans inherently have a more difficult message to impart to voters and thus it’s ever more vital to cultivate meaningful ties with these communities.
“It’s easy to get Peter’s vote if you’re going to rob Paul to pay for it,” Wilburn said. “The Democrats say ‘We will keep the gravy train on the tracks.’ Once you have people hooked on entitlement living, once you have people reliant on government for sustenance, rent payment for things you need to get by day to day, it then becomes easier to say ‘I’m the person who can help keep you getting those things. …It’s much harder to say we’re going to stop giving you those things. We can’t afford this forever, and we’re digging a deeper and deeper and deeper hole.”
Wilburn acknowledged the need for some government spending on poverty alleviation, but was critical of entitlement programs that discourage self-advancement.
“People do legitimately fall on hard times,” he said. “We need a safety net, not a safety lounge chair. The idea that you can fall and we’ll pay you to stay down, that’s immoral. Any time you obstruct someone from self-actualizing, that’s immoral.”
Originally from Chicago and now hailing from Colorado Springs, Colo., by way of Wisconsin, Wilburn grew upset by unrestrained federal spending and became politically active in 2010 with the Tea Party movement. Operating under the motto “Truth Transcends Color,” Wilbur and his team have built a significant social media presence on Facebook and Twitterboth in the Intermountain West and nationwide.
“The idea is that we need to put seeds in the ground that might not produce in five years, ten years, 20 years, I don’t know,” Wilburn said. “We didn’t get here overnight. This took 60 years. turning it around, it’s not going to happen overnight … the discussion we’re having now is policy based. We aren’t there yet. What Republicans or conservatives say is, ‘How do we get more black voters?’ That’s the wrong question. We aren’t there yet. What we first have to do is begin investing time to build relationships. Once you build relationships, then you can ask for votes.”
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Carrie Sheffield is the founder of Bold. She is passionate about storytelling to empower and connect others. A founding POLITICO reporter, Carrie contributed on political economy at Forbes and wrote editorials for The Washington Times. After earning a master’s in public policy from Harvard University, she managed credit risk at Goldman Sachs and researched for American Enterprise Institute scholar Edward Conard. She earned a B.A. in communications at Brigham Young University and completed a Fulbright fellowship in Berlin.