S1: This is a word, a podcast from Slate. I’m your host, Jason Johnson. A generation after leaders like Colin Powell inspired African-American conservatives to embrace the GOP, some of the most visible black Republicans now are extremists and blowhards who are chasing the support of Trump voters. What happened? And what’s the way forward?
S2: There was a time when, you know, blacks voted 90 10 Republican and we squandered that.
S1: The future of black Republican leadership coming up on a word with me. Jason Johnson. Stay with us. Welcome to a word, a podcast about race and politics and everything else. I’m your host, Jason Johnson. Once upon a time, the Republican Party was the default choice of millions of Black American voters and the political home for black leaders. But for decades, the party of Lincoln has embraced the most reactionary policies and statements on race, leaving many conservative black Americans without a political home. And just in the last 15 years, the most prominent black Republican has changed from elder statesman Colin Powell to this guy.
S3: Like it or not, slavery was legal, and so their property, their legal property, was taken away from them after the after the Civil War. So you can make an argument that the people that are old reparations and not only just black people, but also the people whose quote property quote was taken away after after the end of the Civil War.
S1: That’s radio host Larry Elder, who is leading the Republican pack in a bid to become California governor in the upcoming recall election. In the meantime, black Republican and former football star Herschel Walker has announced his longshot candidacy for senator in Georgia, even though he lives in Texas. But there are still black Republicans who want to make the party credible again amongst black voters. One of those leaders is Michael Steele. He once served as lieutenant governor in Maryland and briefly as chairman of the Republican National Committee. He’s currently a political analyst for MSNBC and host of the Man of Steel podcast. Michael Steele joins us now. Welcome to a word.
S2: Hey, man, what’s the word?
S1: I’m just going to start off with this. I mean, just purely from a strategic standpoint, and I think this is, you know, one of the things I appreciate about you the most Michael is that you have a very good mind for just plain old campaign and political strategy. And I think that’s important for people to understand like, you know, what it takes to win, you know, how to make good commercials. I’ve talked in the past how Rafael Warnock’s commercial with the dog, the puppy, was based on one of your campaign ads from 10 12 years ago. You know what you’re talking about? So when you look at Larry Elder, who’s trying to become the governor of California and you look at Herschel Walker, who’s trying to, you know, become the Republican nominee and therefore win the Senate seat against Warnock in Georgia, what do you think their chances are? It’s just just overall 5000 miles away strategy. What do you think these guys chances are on both of these races?
S2: Well, let’s start with Georgia. You know, I think Herschel Walker, certainly. OK, so the thinking of a lot of white Republicans is going to be, Oh, let’s put the black man up against the black man. And so that that will create some of its own juice. So much reminds me of when I was elected chairman. The day I was elected, I was walking through the hall and one of the members came up to me and she gave me a big hug and this big smile on her face. And she said, I’m so excited and I said, Well, thank you. She said, Yeah, now black folks will vote Republican. And I went, Well, maybe I’m not a Pied Piper. This is not how that works.
S1: No, I’m sorry.
S2: That’s the mindset. So I think for Hershel, who has an enormous amount of baggage from his own public statements and tweets over the past few years, sort of the doubling down on the Big Lie and things like that, it’s going to be a challenge for him. But you know, he’s got the blessing, I believe, of a lot of the party folks and former President Trump that’s going to help him get maybe the nomination. And then Warnock, I think, cleans his clock in a general. So Republicans are sort of grasping at straws with candidates like Herschel Walker, and I’ll be straight up about California. California’s all on the Democrats. There’s no way in heaven, earth or hell that they should find themselves with their governor now struggling to hold this seat against a black conservative. Rush Limbaugh radio style talk show host who has no idea how to govern the state of California. Why do these folks think that they’re going to put a guy who runs his mouth all day in a chair? That’s going to have to make these decisions about how to how to spend the very, very finite dollars of the taxpayers which programs to prioritize this brother has already come out talking about, Well, we’re just going to open up the state. No mask mandates, no no vaccine requirements. So he’s going to infect the population and then wonder why the hospitals are overrun. And here’s the rub when he runs for reelection a year from now, do you think Larry Elder is going to get re-elected governor of California? So what will this last 12 months have been about? Absolutely nothing.
S1: Michael, it seems like in the last 10 years, we’re down to a point where one of the only credible black Republicans who is an actual elected official is Tim Scott. What’s Tim Scott’s immediate future? Because I see him and Nikki Haley, everybody is going to talk about them as potential VP picks, but I don’t see them being on a ticket in 2024 for the Republican Party. So where’s Tim Scott go? He’s the most prominent black face left in the party.
S2: You know, Tim arguably can can write his own ticket. You know, everybody’s pouring money into his coffers right now. He’s raising more money than most Republicans. You know, he’s quote, leading on criminal reform. He’s, you know, criminal justice reform. He’s but you. You’re right, there’s going to be a lot of talk about him not only being on the ticket, but being the top of the ticket as a potential Ron. But Tim Scott is not going to run against a Donald Trump for the office. I mean, we’ve he’s already shown he’s not prepared to fight Donald Trump. He won’t fight Donald Trump. But I think for him, it’s going to be. He’s going to have to reconcile a number of things because the reckoning that a lot of African-American politicians are having to come to grips with and this goes back to California and the crazy that’s going there with elder is the Black Communities Voice. It does not sound the same as it has in the past on these big civil rights issues. Now, you know, it’s like we’re going to declare our history. We’re going to declare our moment. Black Lives Matter. We’re going to. We’re going to make the country reckoning come to reckon with us. And I don’t hear a whole lot of black politicians speaking to that.
S1: We’re going to take a short break. When we come back more on the future of black Republicans and black politicians in general, this is a word with Jason Johnson. Stay tuned. This is Jason Johnson, host of a word Slate’s podcast about race and politics and everything else, I want to take a moment to welcome our new listeners. If you’ve discovered a word and like what you hear, please subscribe rate and review wherever you listen to podcasts and let us know what you think by writing us at a word at Slate.com. Thank you. You’re listening to a word with Jason Johnson today, we’re talking about black Republican leadership with commentator and former chair of the Republican National Committee Michael Steele. Michael, I want to continue with this theme because I think you really hit the nail on the head first about Tim Scott and then this sort of idea of these new issues. I look at Tim Scott as a presidential candidate, as a black Republican. He’s going to be an opportunity window guy. Right? I look at Tim Scott the same way. If Trump for some reason didn’t run in 2024, you go to, yeah, then he’s there. He’s going to run, right? Yeah.
S2: I think that I think that’s right. He still has to deal with the likes of a DeSantis and some others that will emerge in that process. But it’ll be a different. It’ll be it’ll be a competitive. It’s going to be a competitive primary regardless, even if Trump does win, because I think Trump is going to be challenged from his normal side and the crazies will will rally around him. So it will be a very difficult primary for Trump or any Trump style candidate from what I’m hearing. This is going to be the the first stage of Armageddon politically. No, it is. And it needs to be. Quite honestly, it needs to be. So where does Tim fit in that in that fight is going to be important? This is not going to be a fight for people’s like. Does the Rodney King? Can’t we all just get along now? We’re past that bill now. We ain’t doing that no more. This is this is about the country democracy. It’s about a party, a once proud party that stood for something other than itself or certainly other than Dear Leader. And so they’re going to be these very, very powerful strains that emerge. And candidates like Tim, Nikki Haley and others who have placated remained silent, nodded their head in the background, stood there with the wide grin when they know it was a shit show going on in front of them. They’re going to have to account for that somewhere now within the primary process. They, you know, they may get a pass, they may slide by, may work out. But in a general conversation with the American people with all that we know to be on the line, on the line and then some, it’s going, you’re going to have to make that case. But now here’s the rub, my friend. Having said all of that, you still have to deal with the American
S1: people who can
S2: be fickle as hell when they
S1: call nice way of putting it.
S2: Yeah, when it comes to their vote. Witness what’s going on in California?
S1: I can tell you I can, and I think I mentioned to you, Mike. I can tell you, having spent a significant amount of time there lately, I am shocked. I think for anyone, it’s like going to Hawaii or New York or any other sort of prominent cultural place in America. What you think about their attitudes when you visit versus when you’ve lived there for a while, they’re very different. I have I’ve encountered more far right wing people.
S2: Oh my
S1: God. Metro L.A.. Then in the D.C. metro area, you know, they’re they’re real. And it’s not just Orange County. You know, there’s real conservatives there.
S2: That’s a that’s I think if you can put a put a pin and an exclamation point on that point. Yeah, I think people will then begin to understand a whole lot about California today. People forget California was once a Republican state. Yes, those roots have not gone away in any given election, certainly a presidential election. You have four to five million Californians Republicans who don’t vote because, hey, our system calls the election eight o’clock. They’re still voting at 5:00 p.m. They decide what the hell they’ve called the election. I’ll go home. You change that system around where that vote still matters. At five o’clock, you’ll see, and this is a good example of it. It’s not just traditional republicanism, but it is a conservatism. Yes, that is has gone off the deep end in many respects, as we’ve seen conservatism across the South and other parts of the country. So you make an excellent point that and people cannot understand that, which is why Larry Elder is where Larry Elder is.
S1: I want to take this back to the south. I want to bring up Daniel Cameron now. You know, for those of you out there, Cameron was one of the most visible black Republicans in the country last year. He’s Kentucky’s attorney general, and he actually gave a speech at the Republican National Convention last year. We’re going to play this quick clip.
S4: Even as anarchists mindlessly tear up American cities while attacking police and innocent bystanders, we Republicans do recognize those who work in good faith towards peace, justice and equality.
S1: So what Cameron is best known for is basically either intentionally or unintentionally fumbling the investigation into the killing of Breonna Taylor. Correct. Look, if you told me on paper, Michael as a candidate, he’s handsome kind of looks like. Blair Underwood, right? You know, he’s got a decent accent and everything else like that and then the moderate, you know, you know, he doesn’t sound too southern and sound to southern in the modern Republican Party. We’ve seen this with Clarence Thomas in the modern Republican Party. You can be a black man in the south with a white wife, and that’s not necessarily the end of your career. At one point, it was then, you know, Cameron’s got a white wife. That’s that’s not going to kill him in Kentucky now. And yet when you talked about the kinds of issues that matter to African-American voters in some white voters today. I don’t know that I think someone like Daniel Cameron can advance, I mean, maybe if Mitch McConnell passed away one day, but I don’t see Daniel Cameron being able to advance beyond where he is in Kentucky right now with something like Breonna Taylor hanging around his neck. It’s kind of like Nikki Haley and the flag in South Carolina. Once you get past your MAGA base, there’s a lot of people who are going to turn up their nose there, and certainly black voters, even conservative black voters, may not be happy with how he handled Breonna Taylor.
S2: So you touched on a number of diamond points that I think are going to be important. One socially, you know, the composition of the man, the family, the package, what? What Kentuckians see, they like that again. It’s safe.
S1: Right, right.
S2: He’s safe, he’s not he’s not threatening to white people. How you sound as a black man in the political space matters. So he checks a lot of those boxes that make white folks feel good. Mm hmm. Because that matters in Kentucky. It helps that he’s a protege of Mitch McConnell, not having been a protege of Mitch McConnell’s. And and I can say, when I ran for the U.S. Senate in 2006, some of the best political fundraising counsel I got, I received from Mitch McConnell. But I always give Mitch McConnell his props for what he wore for the town. His ability to recognize talent, right. And his ability to help that talent mold. Now, in my case, I also had while I had Mitch McConnell on one side, I had Marion Barry on the other. So Marion Barry combination all baby. Let me tell you
S1: that that is that is an interesting combination of mentors.
S2: So did he tell you I knew how to knock on doors and raise money so that they’re in there? It is right. So for for someone like Cameron, it makes a big difference. And again, given where our country is going, what did what does the census shown us, my friend?
S1: We are less like today than
S2: we were 10 years ago. Yes. And we’re going to be less white tomorrow than we are today. Yup. And so. The political and this goes back to what I was saying in the earlier segment for black politicians, you have to know the voice of your people when you go out there and how it’s changing. You can’t just go out and represent the political past that that have has you in the role, right? That has you out there playing this particular role. I learned that very early on when I got elected, and then my approach has always been as an elected official that I start just in politics, quite honestly. Jason I wake up in the morning and I don’t see a Republican. I don’t see a Catholic. I see a black man because when I’m out on the streets and I’m encountering people who may or may not like what they see, right? They don’t know I’m Catholic. They don’t know that I’m a Republican. They don’t know a whole lot of thing. But what they do know is this black man. I just look over. Yeah, this black man sitting in front of me getting a loan, this black man in front of me trying to, you know, convince me to do buy his products. So that’s what I have to contend with in every one of us has to contend with every day. And if you don’t have an appreciation and understanding for that. Mm hmm. As a black politician. Who’s your who are you speaking to? Thank you. At the end of day, you know you got to represent somebody, so why not represent the group you’re from?
S1: We’re going to take a short break when we come back more on the rise of black Republicans and Michael Steele, this is a word with Jason Johnson. Stay tuned. You’re listening to a word with Jason Johnson today, we’re talking about the future of black Republicans were former RNC chair Michael Steele. When I talk to my friends, my far left friends, my far right friends who are black. There is universal discontent with Joe Biden. But what we’ve seen in particular with Joe Biden, and I think this has become very apparent recently. You look at the way that Joe Biden has been so steadfast about Afghanistan, like he’s going to take the heat from his own party, he’s going to take the heat from the media. He’s like, This is what I want to get done. We’re going to get it done. He doesn’t show that same energy about voting rights. I mean, his basic answer about voting rights is from the Bible, like, all right, now, you guys can make your own bricks. Why don’t you just organize more or organize, pass these laws? Right? And and I hear a lot of black voters out there who are furious about this because it’s like, Hey, I’m you know, I’m giving my blood, sweat and tears. Is there a space in the Republican Party for anybody to say, You know what? Maybe if we weren’t just absolutely horrible on voting rights, maybe we could. We could make some progress here because to me, it seems to me like the Republican Party. Like, I don’t know that I think Texas is competitive in 2024 because basically they’re creating laws every 15 minutes to keep anybody in Harris County from voting. And that’s essentially what they’re trying to do in Georgia.
S2: But but all of that’s going to get all of that’s going to get I think a lot of it will get tossed out real time when when you actually have a presidential vote on the line, the courts are going to be very, very circumspect in that respect. But we’ll see. I think I don’t think it’ll come to that. I think a democratic can the right Democratic candidate can win Texas outright, but that’s me and I’ve always been on the edge of that, that spear for a while. I think to your broader point, the tip of that spear. I think you brought your broader point, though, about a black Republican speaking to voting rights in this environment. The answer is no, I don’t. I don’t know who’s going to take that, who’s going to take that risk, who’s going to stand up and say, I’m sorry. Donald Trump did not win the election in 2020. He perpetuated a big lie that led to an insurrection in two thousand twenty one January 6th, and others who continue to perpetuate that lie are doing an enormous disservice to to the Republic. We can’t even find candidates who will stand up and make that statement. So I don’t know how you now get to a point where you’re going to do complicated things like voting rights when you can’t even get people to agree that Donald Trump lost the election in November of 2020?
S1: I want to close it this Michael. So I’m going to I’m going to put you in a star chamber here. You know, as we close, what would you say the party needs to do to actually be appealing to black voters? Is it getting better candidates? Is it fundamental changes in policy or does it just not matter anymore? And it’s about turning out a base and suppressing the vote?
S2: It doesn’t matter anymore. I’ve been in this particular crucible since 1974. I’ve been in this Crucible in a leadership way since nineteen ninety four and I can’t in all that time between ‘94 and today, when I first got elected county chairman in Prince George’s County, I’ve been in that star chamber with a number of people and we have tried and articulated and put forth ourselves and others ideas, you know, standing with the likes of Reagan and McCain, Romney and Bush trying to make the case within our own party of the value of the once part proud relationship between blacks and the GOP. This is our political home. No, a history cannot un right that this is where we started. Whether you like that idea or not is irrelevant because there was a time when, you know, blacks voted 90 10 Republican. Mm hmm. And we squandered that. We we took the cheap way out. But the realities to your Star Chamber scenario is boils down to this. I don’t think the party really wants to do that because the work required is too hard, right? It requires sacrificing too much and giving up on too much. It requires stepping away from white nationalism. And I think, you know, when you buy into rhetoric that says that my ancestors are from shithole countries and that men who want to take my rights away from me and want to burn crosses or excuse me, tiki torches on my front lawn are very fine people to offer me a platinum plan and going to be enough.
S1: Michael Steele is the former chair of the RNC and a political analyst for MSNBC. He is also the host of the Michael Steele podcast Michael Steele. Thank you so much for joining us on a work.
S2: Always enjoy my friend. Take care of Jason. Take so much.
S1: And that’s a word for this week. The show’s e-mail is a word at Slate.com. This episode was produced by Ahyiana Angel and Jasmine Ellis. Asha Saluja is the managing producer of podcast Slate. Gabriel Roth is Slate’s editorial director for Audio. Alicia Montgomery is the executive producer of Podcasts at Slate. June Thomas is senior managing producer of the Slate podcast Network. Our theme music was produced by Don Will. I’m Jason Johnson. Tune in next week for word.