Even before Democrats won the presidential election nearly three years ago, the Republican Party conceded that it needed to be more inclusive of people of color—the voters who essentially delivered President Barack Obama to the White House.
According toBuzzFeed, before the 2012 presidential election, GOPers spent $14,000 on a website that would highlight the achievements of Black people in the Republican Party. But leaders reportedly pulled the plug on the project at the last minute after leaders changed their minds.
According to tax documents obtained by the BuzzFeed News, the RNC spent $14,000 on production, but the site never launched. Crystal Wright, the political strategist who created the campaign, said she was told that the RNC cooled on the idea, which had been in the works since late 2011. RNC Communications Director Sean Spicer, in a meeting with Mike Vallante, chief of staff to RNC co-chair Sharon Day, and then-coalitions director Tom Kise, threw cold water on the website idea, according to Wright.
“I was told by the co-chair’s office the leadership at the RNC said it didn’t want to launch a black outreach website without activities to support it,” Wright said in an email to BuzzFeed News. “In August of 2012, the site was basically finished. I worked with the co-chair’s office to draft a memo of several initiatives to easily roll out but the RNC said it didn’t have money to fund it.”
Reached by NewsOne, an RNC spokesman declined to comment further on the issue, referring this writer instead to Spicer’s comments to BuzzFeed:
“You can quote me on this: I think it’s embarrassing that you’re writing this story,” said Spicer, who added that the GOP’s decision was a small-scale call about how to organize its digital content: The party built a newly integrated site with content targeted toward black voters and other constituency groups, rather than a splintered network of sites.
The spokesman also referred NewsOne to the GOP’s Black Republican Activists webpage, which highlights the works of Black history makers and a message from RNC Chairman Reince Priebus for Martin Luther King Jr. Day. It’s “fully a part of our website gop.com and not as a separate entity,” the spokesman wrote in an email.
Still, BuzzFeed highlights the party’s challenge to attract Black voters, citing findings of a diversity study:
In 2014, the RNC released its Growth and Opportunity Project, which exposed the severity of the Republican National Committee’s shortcomings on diversity last year. President Obama carried the overwhelming majority of the black vote in 2012, just as he did in 2008. In the last few years, one Republican in particular, Gov. Chris Christie, has been praised for securing a sizable portion of the Black vote in his state — 21 percent. Still, presidential contenders like Sen. Rand Paul have emphasized that the lack of effort in targeting and talking to Black voters must be changed at the very least.
In 2012, prominent Black Republican and former Fla. Rep. Allen West tried to help his party accomplish just that. He declined through a spokesman to speak to BuzzFeed for the story.
Black Republicans who wanted to participate in the website were summoned to the RNC on an afternoon in December of 2011. They recorded video testimonials about why they were a Republican, the raw footage of which remains on Vimeo.
By June 2012, word about the project already made the circles of the Republican Party on Capitol Hill. In particular, a small group of GOP Hill staffers expressed doubt that the site would be little more than window dressing. Others questioned the idea of asking black people for their votes against President Obama.
The project lost steam by summer 2012, with one Hill staffer who works for a prominent Republican asking if it was headed toward becoming a “hot a[**] mess,” BuzzFeed writes.
Wright tells the news outlet that the failure to launch the site was emblematic of the Republican Party’s ability to win voters of color.
“My impression was the communications and political offices within the RNC had zero interest in asking for the Black vote. Absolutely, zero. And what happened to Romney? He lost the black, Hispanic, Asian, and woman vote and the election. But he won the white vote, more of it than McCain in 2008.”
Michael Tyler, director of African-American Media & Southern Regional Press Secretary for the Democratic National Committee, tells NewsOne that the decision to pull the plug on the project was unfortunate. He added, however, that it is unlikely that a website would be able to help the party overcome problems with voters of color, including on issues of voting rights and opposition to livable wage legislation.
“While the RNC’s decision is unfortunate, the reality is no website will enable Republicans to do outreach while they continue to obstruct voting rights, oppose livable wage legislation, and refuse to prioritize the issues facing Black families on a daily basis,” Tyler wrote in a follow-up email. “Instead of putting a new face on the same old policies that help those at the very top, Democrats welcome Republicans to join in the fight for working and middle-class families.”