Many commentators made fun of the Republican Party at its convention last week, lampooning the fact that the diversity of the speakers really doesn’t match the diversity of party membership. The parade of African-Americans, Latinos, and women, they argued, was like a Potemkin Village designed to mask a party that lacks meaningful diversity.
The diversity issue is an obvious challenge for the GOP. It’s hard to imagine any party having long-term success if it must begin each election by writing off large, growing segments of the American populace because those segments think the party has no interest in them and nothing to offer them. The only way for Republicans to overcome that perception, I think, is to show that there are diverse members of the party who have been successful. It’s a lot easier to convince people to check out your tent if they can peek inside and see a few friendly faces.
And it’s not as if the convention speakers weren’t accomplished in their own right. The Republicans don’t have to reach down to the county level to find successful Latinos, African-Americans, and women; the diverse speakers at last week’s convention included sitting governors and Senators, a former Secretary of State, and current candidates for the Senate and the House of Representatives. They were an impressive bunch — and if, like me, you were unaware of people like Susana Martinez, the governor of New Mexico, Brian Sandoval, the governor of Nevada, Nikki Haley, the governor of South Carolina, or Mia Love, a congressional candidate from Utah, it was a bit of a revelation.
The stories these folks told about their families, and the opportunities that they were able to enjoy in America through hard work and sacrifice, were compelling — and might actually cause wavering diverse voters to pause and question whether the Republican Party is worth a look. The themes of sacrifice, and hard work, and America as the land of opportunity run deep in families that have immigrated to this country during the last few generations. I’m guessing that Latinos and other recent immigrants who watched any of the convention learned to their surprise that they had a lot in common with the speakers behind the podium.
I don’t think Democrats are in danger of losing their stranglehold on African-American and, to a lesser extent, Latino voters this year, but if I were a Democrat I’d be wondering how my party lost a member like Susana Martinez. Martinez had the tough assignment of following Condoleezza Rice and preceding Paul Ryan on Wednesday night, and she rose to the occasion and gave a terrific, memorable speech. She began her political life as a Democrat, like her parents before her, and one day she and her husband were invited to lunch by two Republicans whom she suspected would raise the issue of joining the GOP. The Martinezes went to the lunch out of politeness and talked with the two Republicans about issues like welfare and the size of government. After the lunch ended, an astonished Martinez turned to her husband and said: “I’ll be damned, we’re Republicans!”
The GOP is hoping that, if it continues to produce and then feature office-holders and candidates of the quality of Susana Martinez and the other people who stood before the Republican convention, it won’t be long before many more diverse Americans realize, with a start, that they also should be Republicans. Based on what I saw last week, that strategy just might work.