While Donald Trump has spent the last several months repelling as many non-white, non-male voters as he possibly can, he’s done relatively little to piss off black voters, specifically. Don’t get me wrong, Trump has a deep catalog to draw from, but his new stuff has mostly been directed at other groups. Aside from his shot at the #BlackLivesMatter movement, which was more an attack on Bernie Sanders for ceding the mic to protesters, Trump has largely rested on the Republican Party’s existing black voter force-field.
Republicans do still get a few black votes, though, and on Thursday, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush took it on himself to drive them away, too. During an appearance at the East Cooper Republican Women’s Annual Shrimp Dinner in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, Bush took questions from the crowd, one of which forced Bush to remind black voters that Republicans think they’re greedy layabouts who only vote Democratic for the “free stuff,” as opposed to the “earned success” that Republicans offer:
Look around this room. How many black faces do you see? How are you going to include them and get them to vote for you? because I don’t think you’re going to win without them.
…”Republicans get 4 to 7 percent of the African-American vote for president, that’s the number I hear about. If you double that, you’re still at a low number, right? But if you double that, you win elections in places like Ohio and Virginia.”
“Our message is one of hope and aspiration. It isn’t one of division and get in line and we’ll take care of you with free stuff. Our message is one that is uplifting — that says you can achieve earned success.”
Let that sink in for a second, because not only is Bush saying that 93%-96% of black voters are hooked on “free stuff,” he’s also saying that even if Republicans take their best shot at offering the blacks some of that “earned success,” 86% of them will still stick with the free goodies.
This is not a new message for Republicans. A lot of people are comparing it to this moment from Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign, mainly because of the use of the phrase “free stuff”:
The annoying thing about that clip is that the liberal heckler mistakenly refers to it as “free birth control,” rather than as what it really is: mandatory coverage of preventative services under the insurance that women pay for or earn as part of their compensation. Not free stuff.
But Romney also made the argument after his defeat in 2012, remarking that President Obama had swayed women and minorities with “extraordinary gifts” like being able to go to a doctor.
Also during the 2012 campaign, sometime frontrunner Newt Gingrich explicitly said that the black community was “satisfied with Food Stamps.”
More recently,Rand Paul told students at a historically black university that black voters were too “impatient” to resist the lure of “unlimited federal assistance.”
Jeb Bush’s remarks, though, come against the backdrop of an election in which black issues are front and center in the Democratic primary race, and the policy proposals being offered by Democratic candidates are concrete, measurable things. Hillary Clinton has rolled out an ambitious slate of voting rights policies that includes restoration of the Voting Rights Act, and policing reforms that include mandatory body cameras and reporting of profiling data. Bernie Sanders has promised to fight to restore the VRA, as well, and to reform criminal justice and policing practices. Martin O’Malley, despite an unfortunate turn of phrase when confronted by protesters, has actually been ahead of the other candidates in addressing racial disparities in the criminal justice system.
What do all of these policies, explicitly directed at black voters, have in common? Not a “free stuff” goody in the lot, unless you count the body cameras, which the police are going to get, not the voters. In fact, black voters have already paid for those policies for years, mostly in blood and fractured skulls.
As is usually the case, though, the media coverage of Bush’s remarks leaves out the best part. In Bush’s full answer, he goes on to explain what Republicans have to offer black voters, and he only comes up with one specific policy. That one specific policy? Free stuff, in the form of school vouchers: