The RNC Is Learning How to Connect to (Some) Black Voters

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Aug. 26 2013 5:59 PM

"Moral Consistency Is What We Should Insist Upon"

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Dr. Alveda King, niece of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., spoke briefly at the RNC event Monday, garnering applause when she said, "I am a Republican!"

Photo by Jeff Fusco/Getty Images

The Republican National Comittee commemorated the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington Monday, and aside from some technical difficulties and one un-PC comment, the event was well executed. RNC Chairman Reince Priebus admitted to the crowd he was nervous organizing the luncheon at the last minute; he worried no one would show up. But they went ahead with it anyway, plenty of people did show up, and they applauded Priebus when he copped to his quixotic undertaking trying to reach black voters: "You can't make the sale if you don't go up and ask for the order."

Allen West was there to give his opinion on Miley Cyrus' VMA performance, but the main speakers were community leaders like Bob Woodson, who's earned praise from Rep. Paul Ryan. Woodson's speech was the most overtly political, at times weaving into Dr. Ben Carson's territory. Most provocatively, Woodson said that "gays, immigrants, women, environmentalists" have all been put in front of poor black people "on the bus." He went on to deride those who called for action after Trayvon Martin's death but not Chris Lane's. "We should not wait for evil to wear a white face before we get angry," he said. "Moral consistency is what we should insist upon." The mostly middle-aged, black crowd gave him a genuine standing ovation.

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Later in the program, Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner gave a full-throated but vague defense of the Voting Rights Act, saying they need to pull out the "monkey wrench" that the Supreme Court threw in it by the end of the year. People shifted in their seats, unsure whether it was kosher to support Section 5, the part of the Voting Rights Act that requires certain districts to undergo "pre-clearance" with the Justice Department to prove they don't have discriminatory voting practices.

Afterward, I asked a young woman named Talaya Waller what she thought of the event. Though she voted for Barack Obama in 2012, she said she doesn't identify as a Democrat or Republican. "It was pretty nice," she said, shrugging. "I came in with no expectations." When I asked whether it encouraged her that the RNC was doing more outreach like this, she fumbled for an answer. That's because it was a dumb question—the folks at the Capitol Hill Club weren't the ones in need of an outstretched hand.

Emma Roller is a Slate editorial assistant. Follow her on Twitter.