CPAC puzzle: how to grow a younger, more diverse GOP (+video)
White, middle-aged activists at the annual CPAC rally in Washington agree that the Republican Party needs to turn toward diversity, but differ over the ways and means to do it.
John Bloom and Kevin Williams – two white, middle-aged conservative activists wandering CPAC, the conservative movement’s annual bacchanal for white, middle-aged conservative activists – want the same thing: to bring more African-Americans into the Republican Party.Skip to next paragraph
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The two, however, diverge wildly about the paths the party needs to take to get there. Mr. Bloom envisions attracting black voters by holding up deeply conservative African-Americans such as former Rep. Allen West of Florida and long-shot candidate for Virginia lieutenant governor E.W. Jackson. Mr. Williams believes the answer is for the party to become more inclusive and temperate, to reach African-Americans where they are now.
In other words, the two men are pretty much where the Republican Party is today: older white guys who know what needs to happen (make the party younger, more diverse) but who can find no agreement on how to get there.
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Bloom’s calling card at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) is a small square of paper with three rhinoceroses on it. Whenever conservatives invoke the horned megafauna, the implication is clear: It’s a vehicle for the derogatory title, RINO, or Republican In Name Only.
Photoshopped onto the middle of the three massive mammals is the head Bloom’s governor, Bob McDonnell (R) of Virginia, who recently signed off on a sweeping reform of the commonwealth’s transportation funding that included plenty of new taxes.
Not only is Bloom happy that Governor McDonnell wasn’t invited to address CPAC this year (he’s been a staple in years past, but the transportation bill was a no-go), but he’s also outraged that McDonnell is the keynote speaker at a private prayer breakfast on Friday morning.
“I’ve gotten fed up with the Republican establishment,” says Bloom, who works in a Newport News, Va., shipyard.
Calling out Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (R) of Kentucky, among others, Bloom says: “There are people in here who still shouldn’t be here.”
Bloom’s solution to the party’s problem? Hold up conservatives who are both minorities and deeply conservative, and allow them to take the message into new communities.
“If we get three old, angry white guys – we’re done [in Virginia’s 2013 elections]," says Bloom, nodding ruefully over his shoulder to the main CPAC stage.
There, Virginia Attorney General-cum-GOP-gubernatorial contender Ken Cuccinelli had just finished a speech that could be well described as vintage “angry white guy.”
That’s the opposite view of Williams, a member of his local Republican committee in Trenton, N.J. He says CPAC’s shunning of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) is a bad idea, citing another well-worn adage at conservative gatherings: President Ronald Reagan’s rule, as Williams puts it, holds that “If we agree with each other 80 percent of the time, you’re still my friend.”
Williams spent six years making a film, “Fear of a Black Republican,” about his party’s unwillingness to reach out to black voters. The results were not encouraging.
“Nobody wants to do it,” he says. Party mandarins “always say, ‘yeah, let’s do it, let’s do it,’ but … it’s about the money and resources. Our money and our resources have been going to the South, the Midwest, and the West. We give up on the coastal states.”
This debate between purity and openness at the grass roots echoes to the pinnacle of big-bucks political power.
Al Cardenas, chairman of The American Conservative Union, which puts on CPAC every year, came down on the side of the purists by withholding invitations from Governors Christie and McDonnell this year.
“Reagan rejected calls to broaden the base of our party … a political party cannot be all things to all people,” Mr. Cardenas said in his opening remarks.
Making a Difference