Republicans just can’t help reminding blacks why they should not consider voting for them, at least not seriously. In a Fox News interview, former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld compared President Barack Obama to a “trained ape” for his failure to sign an agreement with Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai on the number of US troops allowed to remain in Afghanistan after 2014 to help with security.
“A trained ape could get a status of forces agreement. It does not take a genius. And we have so mismanaged that relationship,” said Rumsfeld.
While I agree Obama’s retreat from the world stage has virtually neutered America’s influence globally in conflicts like Syria, Iran, and Crimea, comparing the first black president to a trained ape is just in the poorest of taste. Since slavery, racists have compared blacks to monkeys, gorillas, apes and called blacks derogatory names like nigger, coon, and darkies. After Obama’s election, more than a few Republican politicians have compared him, his family, and other blacks to animals.
I don’t think the intention of Rumsfeld’s remarks was racist but he may as well have compared the president to a “trained darkie” because his comments sounded racist. A white conservative friend of mine observed, “It just sounds racist. That’s probably not what Rumsfeld meant but the president is black.”
“United States diplomacy has been so bad—so embarrassingly bad,” Rumsfeld said. That’s accurate and Rumsfeld comments on Obama’s foreign policy in Afghanistan should have been more in line with this tone. Instead he just said spoke without thinking about the implications of comparing a black president to an ape.
That’s the fundamental problem with many carrying the banner in today’s Republican Party. They are so dismissive of and out of touch with the race culturally, that people like Rumsfeld don’t understand why blacks would find such a remark offensive. Even if he didn’t mean it as racist.
Fresh off the heels of the Republican National Committee’s one-year anniversary of its Growth & Opportunity Project to attract more minority voters, Rumsfeld’s comment is more proof the GOP isn’t serious about inclusion or winning future presidential elections. Comments like his are just the distraction the media loves to report on instead of Obama’s failed leadership at home and abroad.
If Republicans and the RNC are serious about winning more black votes and future elections, here’s some advice. First, hire more people of color at every level across all aspects of conservative politics Congress, campaigns, think tanks, and political organizations. If conservative politicians worked with more blacks, I suspect they would be less inclined to say stupid things that offend blacks in speeches or other forms of communications because the blacks working with them would tell them “you can’t say that because it sounds racist.”
Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in his autobiography My Grandfather’s Son, he recommended President George H. W. Bush appoint “blacks to positions of responsibility than the race-related ones they’d traditionally held.”
Second, if Republicans want to earn more of the black vote, the RNC and other groups should follow Senator Rand Paul’s lead and take the conservative message to places Republicans aren’t used to going like historically black colleges and universities. Paul has spoken Howard University and Simpson College. The RNC also needs to be talking to groups like the National Urban League, the NAACP and other “so called” black advocacy groups.
The RNC won’t win over votes in one speech, but it can begin to build and sustain a conversation with black voters. If blacks don’t hear from the GOP how voting Republican will improve their lives, then they will continue to vote over 90% Democrat, especially when our spokespeople make offensive and racist remarks.
Democrats won four of the past six presidential elections and they look poised for another victory in 2016 unless the GOP can stop putting its foot in its mouth and start doing some outreach.