Suhail Khan recalls how during the 2008 presidential election, the McCain campaign held a high-dollar dinner event for Jewish donors in New York City. Unfortunately, the menu included bacon-wrapped scallops. This was a double social blunder — pork and shellfish by themselves are incompatable with Jewish dietary laws. Wrapped together, they definitely aren’t kosher.
“It’s not always that it’s an issue of negative or hostile comments or positions on issues that may serve to push communities away from the conservative movement,” Khan explained. “Sometimes it’s just not being familiar with some of the basics.”
While the bacon-scallops mishap is perhaps just a one-off faux pas, it illustrates part of Khan’s bigger task: bridging gaps between non-traditional voters and conservatives. Founder and chairman of the Conservative Inclusion Coalition (CIC), Khan launched the initiative in the wake of John McCain’s loss to Barack Obama.
“Losing is always frustrating, but the 2008 losses were even more so because the conservative movement had made such progress in previous elections,” Khan said.
Khan, who is a Muslim, saw conservatives regressing with key demographics in 2008 and also in 2012 compared to when George W. Bush won 40 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2000 and nearly 44 percent in 2004. Bush won an astonishing 78 percent of the Muslim American vote, with 46,200 ballots cast for Bush in Florida alone. Yet by 2008, McCain’s support from Hispanics plunged to 32 percent, despite the fact that the senator enjoyed well over 70 percent of Hispanic support in his numerous campaigns in Arizona. And Muslim American support for the GOP plummeted to single digits.
“Those of us who were active with presidential campaigns in 2000, 2004 and 2008, who had served in coalitions and outreach capacities on the campaigns, with the RNC, and in the Bush administration began to meet to discuss ways we could more effectively promote the conservative message to all Americans, regardless of their race, faith or ethnic background,” Khan said. “We wanted to ensure that the conservative message of individual liberty, limited government and a strong national defense was inclusive of all Americans including women, young voters and anyone who loves liberty.”
Khan describes CIC as an informal federation of politicos working across a broad spectrum of ethnic and religious groups. Early activists with CIC included Eli Gold of the Harbour League, and Stephen Fong, a former Bush appointee and RNC coalitions advisor on Asian American outreach. Other key CIC supporters include Jennifer Sutton, who assisted the McCain campaign in outreach to Jewish voters, Chris Malagisi and Tim Teehan of the Young Conservative Coalition and Mario Lopez of the Hispanic Leadership Fund.
“I’m proud to work with leaders who understand that conservative principles are universal and that we can and must carry our message forward to all Americans, especially if we want to ensure America remains free and prosperous in the 21st Century,” Lopez said.
Veteran conservative leaders such as David Keene, the former chairman of the American Conservative Union and president of the NRA, Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, various Members of Congress and others have offered their counsel to CIC.
At the 2010 annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), Khan received the Young Conservative Coalition’s Buckley Award for his grassroots leadership in establishing the CIC. In August 2010, Khan led a delegation of major Muslim-American faith and community leaders to Auschwitz and Dachau concentration camps.
Upon returning to the United States, the delegation issued a statement and testified before Congress condemning Holocaust-denial and anti-Semitism. The delegation included U.S. Special Envoy on Anti-Semitism Hannah Rosenthal, U.S. Special Envoy to the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) and White House Counsel Rashad Hussain and Rabbi Jack Bemporad of the Center for Interreligious Understanding (CIU) of New Jersey.
“The Inclusion Coalition is an opportunity for leaders of diverse communities to share best practices, unite on common issues, be informed on current legislation and give voice to our communities in the Conservative the movement while encouraging all our diverse communities to participate in the political arena,” said Manny Rosales, another key CIC member formerly with the Republican National Committee and now with the Latino Coalition.
CIC meets every few months and has grown over the years to include dozens of conservative activists who are dedicated to expanding and growing the conservative movement. As a coalition that emphasizes inclusion, Khan says CIC avoids getting bogged down with specific policy items and instead focus on promoting the broader conservative message of individual liberty, limited government and a strong national defense.
CIC members have also met with candidates for RNC chairman, hosted panel discussions, briefings and receptions and volunteered for various campaigns. Khan reports that as a long time CPAC attendee and member of the ACU Board of Directors from 2006-2014, he worked to include conservatives from the various youth, women, ethnic and faith communities at many CPAC panels.
“The bottom-line for me is that, as a life-long Reagan conservative, I firmly believe that we can continue to grow the ranks of Americans who cherish individual liberty, limited government and a strong national defense,” Khan said. “[W]e need to get out there and invite all Americans to join us in this movement and to participate in our great democracy.”
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Carrie Sheffield is the founder of Bold. She is passionate about storytelling to empower and connect others.