The CBC's Newest Member?

The Hill reports that Rep.-elect Allen West (R-Fla.) is planning to join the Congressional Black Caucus:

“There are two criteria to be a member of the Congressional Black Caucus — you must be black and you must be a member of Congress, and when I woke up this morning, I think I met both of those criteria,” West told The Hill on Tuesday. “So I will be joining.”

West is a genuinely troubling guy, but I'm not opposed to his application for the CBC; in my view, any black congressperson or anyone representing a significant number of African American voters should be allowed into the caucus. That said, it's worth noting how few black people West actually represents; at 3.8 percent, Florida's 22nd district ranks 125 on a list of districts with the smallest African American populations. Put another way, 315 other districts have more black people than the one West represents.

Two things: for a black Republican like West, his symbolic value -- "our party is diverse too!" -- is more important than the number of African Americans he represents. That said, Republicans shouldn't fool themselves into thinking his presence does anything to improve their position among black voters. Like everyone else, African Americans vote their interests, and if Allen West's tenure is marked by lockstep agreement with GOP interests -- and for reasons institutional, it probably will be -- his mere image as a black Republican is unlikely to help the party make inroads.

Of course, if I were a Republican strategist, I wouldn't worry too much about it; after all, my party doesn't actually need black votes to win.

-- Jamelle Bouie

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