“I will give anyone in this room a thousand dollars if they will produce a list of Black Republican staffers who work on Capitol Hill,” says Raynard Jackson as he waves a wad of cash before a standing room only luncheon at the National Press Club.
Jackson, a GOP Operative, sent out a call to the faithful to come to this luncheon. This is the inaugural luncheon for “Black Americans for a Better Future” Super Pac. I’m talking about Black Republicans and those in the party who understand the demographics of the future. They aren’t in the closet. Some in this room have served in Republican presidential cabinets, state legislatures, and locally. Others have transitioned from glare of the GOP spotlight to create businesses. This wing of the political party has watched from the sidelines and they aren’t buying what the current crop of Presidential candidates are selling.
In a jovial, but serious, rant Jackson went in full bore on what his “party” hasn’t done. They are “unprepared and unqualified…I’m disgusted.” The columnist is provocative. I’ve heard his rants in private conversations. The party leaders and movers-and-shakers sometimes get visibly uncomfortable when he’s around.
Some of his most searing commentary focused on the new generation (or lack thereof) of Black GOP members. He told the audience about an experience he had with a Congressman (he wouldn’t name him). According to Jackson, he asked him if he had any Black staffers. Embarrassed, the Representative would go on to make a concerted effort to hire one (a twentysomething) for what the host described as “race insurance.” Jackson said he was used to these 20-year-old staffers calling him on the phone asking for advice and direction. “I don’t want you to hire a 20 year old, and they call me on phone asking me ‘what should I do?’” He named and pointed to several seasoned veterans in the room who are card-carrying Republicans. He reminds the audience, “You can be Republican and Black.” Somehow, he says, they don’t want to be seen through a race lens. “Duh, that’s how they see you” is his reply.
He didn’t leave FOX Network out of his criticism. He’s appeared on the channel. There appears to be a single purpose for African-Americans to be on, in his appraisal: “bash the President.” He gave an example of friend who had an expertise on an international issue but, a producer wanted to know could he talk about how bad the President is on the issue. The individual was not used on the air.
He’s heard it all before: “We can’t find any Black Republicans.” He wasn’t shocked when he went to Milwaukee for the Republican Presidential Debate and asked most of the hopefuls if they had any Black staffers. He heard the standard retort that there were none to be found, but shot back, “Where do you find Biffy and Buffy?”
The invisibility of Black Republicans is made evident by the luncheon’s special guest Maryland Lieutenant Governor Boyd Rutherford. Rutherford joined Governor Larry Hogan in winning a state dominated by Democrats. Apparently, this message hasn’t been disseminated to party members across the county.
Rutherford has worked in Republican administrations in Maryland and for President George W. Bush. He didn’t leave his Black card at home. The host reminds the assembled Rutherford was born in Washington, DC. In fact, he tells the audience his birth certificate describes him and his parents as “colored.” He went to Howard University and graduated from the University of Southern California Law School.
“We are in an Uber world,” said the Lieutenant Governor in describing the current business climate in Maryland. It was music to ears of many business leaders in attendance. He’s only been in office for 10 months. An early challenge was the deployment of the National Guard to quell rioting in Baltimore. Adding to the challenges was the Governor being diagnosed with cancer (under Maryland Law the Lt.Gov. acts on his behalf when being treated). “I’m happy to say he announced he (Governor Hogan) was cancer free.
Rutherford laid out a vision to get more African-Americans to consider the GOP. He says, “It’s okay to have our views,” He chided the Democratic Party who seem to make members of the GOP out to be the “boogey-man.” “Get past the side-show tactics” such as the often repeated claim “you’ll be going back to chains.” He points out that even in Black Democratic strongholds a number of voters are becoming independent voters.
Jackson asked if Rutherford will go on the road and spread the gospel of GOP to an African-American audience around the country. The politician says he may be able to travel more now without the medical challenges to the governor. Applause abounds and audience members rush to get selfies before Rutherford departs.
The host is also surrounded by those from various parts of the country asking if he will come to their state and lay the ground work for creating a similar luncheon. He smiles with approval. There is clearly work to be done.
Charles Robinson is a Political Reporter based in Maryland. He is an expert on Black Politics in America.