If all goes as planned, Vice President Mike Pence will deliver his address from a stage set up at Fort McHenry Wednesday marking the second time Baltimore has found its way — albeit symbolically — into this week’s Republican National Convention. On Monday, Kim Klacik, the GOP candidate in Maryland’s 7th Congressional District, also had a brief appearance in the Monday night RNC lineup (somewhere between the angry attack on teacher unions and the unapologetic gun-toting lawyers from St. Louis) with a two-minute video essentially reiterating her message of last week’s viral video calling on West Baltimore African Americans to support Donald Trump. Not since Baltimore’s Theodore McKeldin gave the principal nominating speech for Dwight Eisenhower in 1952 in Chicago (or at least since native son Spiro Agnew left the vice presidency in disgrace in 1973) has Charm City gotten this kind of attention from the GOP. Let’s pretend it’s a good thing.
Doubtless, Mr. Pence is coming to Baltimore merely for the backdrop. Expect a speech comparing his running mate’s performance to the stalwart defenders of the fort who held off the British in 1814 and inspired Francis Scott Key to write “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Should the phrase, “rocket’s red glare,” fail to make the speech, we will be shocked. And if the damage done to one of the national monument’s walkways by a forklift setting up this TV moment on Monday is the worst harm inflicted on the Baltimore by the Trump-Pence campaign, we will consider ourselves fortunate. Using such sacred historic places for political theater is crass and inappropriate but entirely in character for an administration where optics rule and self-interest reigns. Again, we’ve seen worse.
Still, somewhere between President Trump’s apocalyptic view of Baltimore as the worst place in the country, Vice President Pence’s 206-year-old vision of the city as patriotic white men with guns and Ms. Klacik’s dubious call for Republicans to not “write off” the urban African American vote, hope springs eternal. What if this administration actually did care about Baltimore? What if they truly wanted to heed their congressional candidate’s advice and show some belated concern about Black lives and, in the process, refute the casual racism and hateful and divisive rhetoric that has so permeated this presidency? It’s a lot to expect, yes, but surely no one is beyond redemption.
The first step would, of course, require a reality check. Baltimore did not leave the Republican Party; the Republican Party left Baltimore beginning with more than a half-century of white flight. There was a time when the GOP tolerated moderate and even liberal voices such as Maryland Sen. Charles “Mac” Mathias Jr. or Reps. Helen Delich Bentley, Wayne Gilchrest and Connie Morella. No more. If Republicans want to show an interest in Baltimore, let alone the 7th District, where Democrats outnumber them 10-to-1, they’re going to have to at least run for local office. Guess what party is going to capture Baltimore City Council seats in Districts 1, 4, 8, 9, 11 and 13 or the citywide office of comptroller on Nov. 3? It won’t be a Republican. Nobody from that party could bother to pay the $50 fee and file as a candidate for any of those offices. Not one.
Ms. Klacik took some umbrage recently when we dared suggest that her viral video pitch seemed odd, that walking past boarded up buildings in West Baltimore was no platform for Congress. And complaining only about the party affiliation of the city’s elected leaders or the hot-button issue of “defunding” police not only ignored Baltimore’s more pressing real-life problems (much of them stemming from concentrated poverty and the legacy of discrimination), it conveniently fit the Trump narrative of scaring white suburbanites. Nor does it help that she lives in Middle River, which is not only outside Baltimore but outside the 7th District. How the concerns she has expressed for the future of Baltimore and the welfare of Baltimoreans can be matched with her unconditional support for President Trump given his track record is for her to explain.
We would not presume to speak for city residents, let alone 7th District voters, but most we know support people, not parties nor even positions. It’s one of the reasons Larry Hogan, a Republican, was reelected governor of this state two years ago, the first Republican governor to win reelection since Baltimore’s McKeldin. He did not run as a Trump acolyte. In Maryland, voters need to be presented with a real choice, not a photo op, not a video. The day Republicans in Washington behave like they give a damn about Baltimore (and maybe file for local offices) is likely the day the region’s voters will take notice.
The Baltimore Sun editorial board — made up of Opinion Editor Tricia Bishop, Deputy Editor Andrea K. McDaniels, writer Peter Jensen and summer intern Anjali DasSarma — offers opinions and analysis on news and issues relevant to readers. It is separate from the newsroom.