Blacks and Republicans: an overdue debate

Quick quiz: What do LL Cool J, The Rock, 50 Cent, Karl Malone, Don King, Lynn Swann, Wilt Chamberlain, Eldridge Cleaver, Peter Boulware, Tony Dungy and Alveda King, (niece of Martin Luther King Jr.) have in common?

If you guessed membership in the Republican Party, please go to the head of the class.


If you are unable to comprehend how any African-American could make this political choice, please stay after school. You require remedial assistance. In fact, your intolerance is part of the problem — both for the Republican Party and the country at large.

For starters, it is this group of racial antagonists that regularly demonize prominent African-American Republicans. For those of you with short-term memory issues, herewith, a sampling:


"[Y]ou got the privilege of living in the house if you served the master ... Colin Powell's committed to come into the house of the master. When Colin Powell dares to suggest something other than what the master wants to hear, he will be turned back out to pasture." — Harry Belafonte

"Republicans bring out Colin Powell and J.C. Watts because they have no program, no policy. They have no love and no joy. They'd rather take pictures with black children than feed them." — Donna Brazile, Al Gore's 2000 campaign manager

"A handkerchief-head, chicken-and-biscuit-eating Uncle Tom." — Spike Lee, on Clarence Thomas

The foregoing and so many others are able to offer such indictments with general immunity from their brothers and sisters on the left. That such statements carry so little consequence is not a healthy state of affairs. But it does offer interesting insight into the mindset of the modern progressive.

Not so long ago, the right was regularly charged with racial insensitivity, and far worse. The indictment was not groundless. Circa-1970s issues such as busing, affirmative action and set-asides lent themselves to serious racial tension. In fact, many Republicans (myself included) believe these debates and the Nixonian "Southern strategy" remain the primary reasons for overwhelming African-American support on behalf of Democratic candidates today.

This race-conscious era had another negative political impact for the GOP: It helped erase the memory of strident Southern Democratic opposition to the civil rights initiatives of the 1960s.

I was reminded of all this tortured history while reading about the death threats directed toward Stacey Dash, the African-American actress who has come out for Mitt Romney in a very public way.

Hopefully, these death threats are limited to a very small group of unserious whack jobs. But it will be mainstream progressives that will criticize, even degrade, the successful actress.


As recited earlier, we have seen this movie before. The pattern is familiar: A famous African-American supports a Republican, charges of "race-traitor" are made against the "offender," the press dutifully reports the ugly story, and the accusers … escape unscathed.

We have all witnessed the consequence-less vitriol directed at the likes of Michael Steele, J.C. Watts, Clarence Thomas, Thomas Sowell, Rep. Allen West, Herman Cain and a laundry list of other conservative African-Americans. And God only knows what outright cruelty awaits congressional candidate Mia Love, the mayor of Saratoga Springs, Utah, who would be the first Republican African-American congresswoman in U.S. history. Talk about breaking the glass ceiling!

I wish Mayor Love well. She is mightily impressive. She would be a welcome addition to the House Republican Conference. Her skin color, party affiliation and intellect would make her a serious political newcomer. But she will not make history in another important sense.

You see, Ms. Love's district is more than 85 percent Caucasian. If she wins, it would be because of conservative white voters, and thereupon she would join a small but growing list of African-American Republicans who have represented predominantly white districts.

Alas, we still await the day a conservative African-American Republican will do what has never been done: win in a racially mixed district.

That accomplishment will mark the beginning of a new era — a time when it just may become more generally acceptable for a prominent African-American to espouse Republican principles.


The momentous event will also begin an even more important discussion about what all this wholesale support for the Democratic Party has brought to the African-American community. A quick glance at the state of urban education, black teenage unemployment, multigenerational poverty, and black family income would be a good place to begin this long-overdue debate.

Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s column appears Sundays. The former Maryland governor and member of Congress is a partner at the law firm King & Spalding, the author of "Turn this Car Around" — a book about national politics — and Maryland chairman for the Romney presidential campaign. His email is