J.C. Watts for RNC Chair?
Former Oklahoma Congressman J.C. Watts tells Politico that he is being "encouraged" by friends and supporters to seek the chairmanship of the Republican National Committee.
Watts is not formally entering the race, and he is not critical of current RNC Chairman Reince Priebus, who has already announced he will second term in the post.
But Watts, an African-American conservative who served in the House from 1994-2002, said the GOP defeat on Election Day demonstrates that Republicans need to broaden their appeal to minority voters, and cannot continue on their current path if the party is to be successful in presidential races.
"My concern right now, and I don't say this necessarily as a candidate [for RNC chairman], my concern is that as a Republican, every single Republican in America ought to be concerned about what has happened in 2008 and 2012," Watts said in an interview with POLITICO. "In this business, if you're not growing, you're dying."
Watts would not identify who is lobbying him to challenge Priebus, and reiterated that he has not made a decision to definitely jump into the race.
Watts complained that Republican efforts to reach out to minority groups have not been sustained or consistent during his 20-plus years as a politician, but rather are executed on ad hoc basis - usually in election years. In Watts' view, and that of many other Republican leaders and party operatives, if the GOP doesn't dramatically improve its image with black and Hispanic voters, it will not be able to win back the White House.
"These old, tired, pathetic models of saying, 'Okay, in the black [community], when there's a presidential election, we will form an African-American Coalition for [Mitt] Romney or [Sen. John] McCain,' I'll never do that again. That is a joke, that is so tired," Watts said. "It's window dressing to say, 'African Americans for Romney' or 'African-American Coalition' or 'African-American Advisory Council.' That's insulting to the people that they ask to do it when you don't put an permanent infrastructure in place to give it credibility."
Watts is correct, but it's hard to see how making the face of the RNC chair black is any less "window dressing" than forming a "coalition" every four years. We've already tried that when Michael Steele served as chair from 2009-11. Steele suffered from a severe case of foot in mouth disease and was otherwise a flashpoint for controversy for things unrelated to his race.
Symbols and gestures aren't going to cut it. There is going to have to be serious, sustained missionary work to the black and Hispanic communities if Republicans are going to cut into Democratic support. Right now, they are only listening to one side. And that side is scaring them by painting the GOP as a bunch of extremist racists who want to ship all Hispanics back to where they came from while rolling back progress on civil rights made over the last 40 years.
Outreach is more than setting up a committee with black or Hispanic faces. It will involve getting to know these communities while allowing them to know Republicans. Where do the interests of minorities mesh with those of Republicans? Where is there friction? What, at bottom, do these communities want?
It won't happen in one or two election cycles which is why the effort must be sustained even though progress will be hard to see. Democrats are helping by only paying attention to minorities at election time. No one likes to be taken for granted and there may be fertile ground to till if the GOP can begin to demonstrate genuine interest in issues affecting minorities.
J.C. Watts is honest, honorable, and one of the more thoughtful Republicans in the country. He'd be an excellent RNC chair for those reasons, not because of his race. Reince Priebus just presided over an electoral debacle. By all rights, he should be replaced. The GOP could do worse than choose Watts to head the party for the next two years.