Meet the GOP's New Black Friend

When Allen West was defeated in the 2012 election and Tim Scott was appointed to serve out the term of retiring South Carolina senator Jim DeMint, that left Republicans back where they had usually been in the past, with not a single black Republican in the House of Representatives. This is something they aren't particularly pleased about, which is why in the coming year you're going to be hearing a lot about Mia Love, a candidate from Utah's 4th district. Barring some shocking scandal, come November she'll be bringing that number from zero up to one, and she's going to become a right-wing celebrity. Mia Love is the Republicans' New Black Friend.

You may remember Love from the 2012 Republican convention, where she gave a not-particularly-memorable speech. She couldn't beat Jim Matheson, the conservative Democrat who represented the district, despite the fact that Mitt Romney won there by a 37-point margin. But now Matheson has just announced that he's retiring, which makes Love's election in what was supposed to be a rematch all but certain. So get ready: Mia Love is going to be the most famous Republican House candidate in the country. She'll be on Fox News more often than Sean Hannity. She'll be touted by all the conservative radio hosts. I'm betting they'll put her on the cover of National Review. Because that'll show those liberals.

I guess the question conservatives might ask is, "What's wrong with that?" Lots of politicians are elevated by their party because of something that their personal story is supposed to represent. But the question is, what exactly does Mia Love represent for the Republican party? It's not like she's the first of a coming wave of black Republican leaders, and certainly not female black Republican leaders. That isn't going to happen. It's not like she is a harbinger of a change in the Republican approach toward African-Americans and other minority groups. Maybe she'll turn out to be some spectacular talent who will rise to untold heights, but she hasn't yet shown that she's that, either.

Conservatives might also say, "Didn't liberals love Barack Obama because he was black?" It's true that Obama's race was part of his appeal to the left. The difference is, first, that it was only part of it, while you could probably ask a hundred Republicans what they know about Mia Love and 99 of them would only be able to tell you one thing. But more importantly, in 2008 the elevation of an African-American presidential candidate was a genuine reflection of liberal values and history. Liberals are the ones who have always advocated for civil rights and continue to do so. Their party is the multicultural, multi-ethnic, multiracial one. They did want Obama's nomination to say something about themselves, but it was something true. What do conservatives want Love's election to say about them?

I suppose it's possible that blacks (and members of other minority groups, too) will see all the attention Love will get and say, "Hmm, maybe those Republicans are changing." Or they might think just the opposite, that they're trying way too hard with her, and its a kind of tokenism that only reinforces their basic problem. That being said, there isn't necessarily anything wrong with the GOP making Mia Love a star. There are black female conservatives out there—not many, but some. It's only questionable if they try to use her election as evidence for an assertion that is otherwise without support, like "We're not just the party of white people." When nearly nine in ten of your voters are white, you are. Even if you elect one black Republican from Utah.

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