At CPAC, There’s Little Enthusiasm About Expanding the GOP Base

The first day of the conservative conference didn’t spend much time on one of the biggest issues facing the GOP.

People wait to listen to speakers during CPAC, March 6, 2014 in National Harbor, Maryland.
National Journal
Elahe Izad
March 6, 2014, 11:18 a.m.

One of the biggest chal­lenges the GOP will face in 2016 will be how to win over great­er num­bers of non­white voters.

But it doesn’t seem that this kind of soul-search­ing is something the con­ser­vat­ive base is go­ing to get fired up about. At the first day of the Con­ser­vat­ive Polit­ic­al Ac­tion Con­fer­ence, the most thor­ough dis­cus­sion about how to win over “non­tra­di­tion­al vot­ing blocs” came in the late af­ter­noon, with a pan­el dis­cus­sion en­titled “Reach­ing Out.” It man­aged to fill up about one-third of the main ball­room.

“You’ve got to show up and not come when you need them but come when they need you,” said Bob Wood­son, pres­id­ent of the Cen­ter for Neigh­bor­hood En­ter­prise. “It both­ers me when people say low-in­come people re­spond to gifts…. Nobody wants to be de­pend­ent. Let’s as­sume that people want a hand up, not a handout. What lib­er­als do is they at least ex­press their con­cern.”

The pan­el­ists offered their thoughts on how to make in­roads in minor­ity com­munit­ies: Don’t pander by simply go­ing on tours or seek­ing photo ops; in­vest money in­to mul­ti­lin­gual mes­saging and reach out to Span­ish-lan­guage me­dia; de­vel­op long-last­ing re­la­tion­ships with com­munity lead­ers; and find is­sues, like help­ing former pris­on­ers se­cure jobs, where in­roads can be made.

Some of the mar­quee speak­ers at CPAC did tout policy, such as bol­ster­ing charter schools, that could garner sup­port from some non­white voters. But com­pared with last year’s CPAC, where a ma­jor fo­cus was woo­ing Latino voters, delving in­to the main themes of the postelec­tion GOP autopsy re­port seems to have lost steam. No men­tion of im­mig­ra­tion re­form came from ma­jor speak­ers Thursday, with just one pan­el ded­ic­ated to the top­ic of cit­izen­ship. 

The first speak­er to really talk about im­mig­ra­tion was Don­ald Trump. “We’re either a coun­try or we’re not,” he said, when ad­voc­at­ing for a strong bor­der. The audi­ence burst in­to ap­plause.

New Jer­sey Gov. Chris Christie would have been well po­si­tioned to de­liv­er re­marks on how to win over more non­white voters; he won 51 per­cent of His­pan­ics and 21 per­cent of Afric­an-Amer­ic­ans last year. But giv­en Christie’s re­cent prob­lems back in New Jer­sey, and his drop­ping poll num­bers among Re­pub­lic­ans, he per­haps had more press­ing con­cerns to ad­dress with his speech.

The com­ing days at CPAC could fea­ture more dis­course on the im­port­ance of minor­ity voters. Sen. Rand Paul, who will speak Fri­day, has been tour­ing the coun­try, sit­ting at roundtables with Afric­an-Amer­ic­an lead­ers and stu­dents, in an ef­fort to reach out. Ben Car­son, who speaks Sat­urday, has been known to lash out against the as­sump­tion that blacks should be con­sidered de­fault Demo­crats.

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