As the California Recall election was called just before midnight on the east coast, all I could hear in my head was Kirk Franklin’s voice repeating, “It Ain’t Over,” like he did on the gospel song STOMP from 1997. Deep down, I knew that even with this blowout of a win for Governor Gavin Newsom, Larry Elder ain’t going nowhere.
Newsom won on Tuesday night by more than 24 points, which means his main rival, Elder, isn’t moving into the California governor’s mansion anytime soon. But he is moving into the center of political strategy for the GOP nationally, to play a role that other high profile Black Republicans, like Senator Tim Scott and Herschel Walker, have come to know intimately: the acceptable Black man who makes white Republicans feel good about their racist beliefs.
Elder will be the example that Trump voters can name drop when they’re called out for demonizing Black Lives Matter, which Elder has called a “bogus” movement. He will provide them with all of their rebuttals in arguments about systemic racism and racial profiling—neither of which Elder believes exist. His assertions that Black people would survive encounters with police if they complied, and that sexism is an exaggerated problem for women, will give them cover for their own similar opinions.
There is a model here, and we’ve seen it before—the Black man who actively spews harmful language that reeks of self loathing in order to appeal to white Republican audiences.
Cue Senator Tim Scott. This is someone who, in his response speech to President Biden’s first address to Congress earlier this year, described that he knows exactly what it’s like to be discriminated against, to be followed in stores, and to be racially profiled by police, only to conclude that America is not racist in the same breath. In that moment, the only Black Republican Senator spoke directly to white Republican voters and essentially said, you’re absolved.
And he absolves them again and again with every policy stance and every vote he takes against voting rights, against impeaching Trump for inciting a domestic terrorist attack, against ending qualified immunity for police, against raising the minimum wage, against any and everything that would actually help Black people.
Waiting in the wings, we also have former pro-football running back and Senate candidate Herschel Walker, who Donald Trump has known since the 1980s and whom Trump himself has hand-selected and encouraged to challenge Sen. Rev. Raphael Warnock in Georgia in the hopes of him being a two-fer. I say two-fer because after the dog whistles that fell flat in Kelly Loeffler’s 2020 campaign against Warnock, and massive turnout among Black and brown voters to deliver the Senate seat for Democrats, Republicans knew they had to try a different approach. Now they hope that Walker not only absolves the conscience of white Republican voters, but also that he can attract Black voters. He is a legendary NFL player with high name recognition, who just happens to believe that Black people are not oppressed in the United States and testified that Black people do not deserve reparations during a hearing in the U.S. House of Representatives earlier this year.
From Associate Justice Clarence Thomas, who conservatives are thrilled to have on their side casting decisive votes to eviscerate the Voting Rights Act of 1965, to David Clarke, a Trump supporting, former Milwaukee County Sheriff, who declared that Black people are uneducated, lazy and morally bankrupt, to Herman Cain, who, while he was alive, didn’t believe that racism held back anyone in a big way, the GOP definitely has a type. And Elder, who Erika D. Smith called “the Black face of white supremacy” in the Los Angeles Times last month, fits it.
I can’t say for sure what Elder will do next (now that he’s done peddling election fraud lies), but it wouldn’t surprise me to see him named as a new Fox News contributor within the month, or to headline the next CPAC event as a keynote speaker. In the lead up to the 2022 midterms, Elder will be the ultimate surrogate and a prolific fundraiser for Trump-approved Republican candidates across the country, adding in extra stops, I’d have to guess, to Georgia in support of Herschel Walker. Maybe he will be named as a primetime speaker at the next Republican Convention, which would be a massive platform for his opinion that police actually don’t use excessive force against Black people. And white Republican audiences will eat it up, every single time.
Perhaps, then, it’s no great loss for the GOP that Elder couldn’t take Newsom’s job. Republicans leveraged their recall election to take Elder from a local shock jock to a national star within their party. And now they will keep him in the fold working overtime for the GOP. As Elder himself said to supporters this week, “stay tuned.”