Feb 3, 2022 - Politics & Policy

GOP at odds while courting Black voters

An image of the Supreme Court with an American flag flying on the left side of the frame
Photographer: Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Republican criticism of President Biden's intent to nominate a Black woman to the Supreme Court comes at a tenuous time — as the party tries to expand its Black outreach.

Why it matters: The GOP had hoped to capitalize on Biden's lower approval ratings among Black Americans, as well as recent failure to pass federal voting rights bills, to make inroads ahead of this year's midterms and the 2024 presidential election.

  • But Republican disagreement about the Supreme Court this week foreshadows the challenge for a party whose titular leader — Donald Trump — tapped deep-seated anxieties around race and gender during his four years as president.

Driving the news: The Republican National Committee has opened five Black engagement centers in battleground states, including Ohio, Wisconsin, Florida and Pennsylvania.

At least two more are planned in North Carolina, Axios is told.

Biden's approval rating among Black voters has fallen from 78% to 57% over the course of his first year in office, Quinnipiac University’s surveys shows.

  • That doesn't mean they'll flock toward the Republican Party, but it could dissuade issue voters who aren't party loyalists from turning out for Democrats.
  • Plus, the Pew Research Center found that just 29% of African Americans self-identify as "liberal."
  • Sixty-five percent defined themselves as conservative or moderate.

In the Senate, though, some Republicans have lambasted Biden for his promise to install a Black woman to the Supreme Court.

The promise dates to the 2020 campaign.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) called it “offensive” and “an insult to Black women."

  • Cruz didn't take issue when Trump openly promised to nominate a woman in 2020, a seat that later went to Justice Amy Coney Barrett.

Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) did not say he opposes Biden's pledge to name a Black woman. But when asked by reporters about the divisions over Republican messaging on the topic, he drew on a line he has used in past questions about nominees, saying, “I want a nominee who knows a law book from a J. Crew catalog."

  • He told a Politico reporter that "I don't even know who the nominee is yet" but that his own criteria is that "I want a nominee who's not going to try to rewrite the Constitution every other Thursday to try to advance a 'woke' agenda."

What they're saying: "Inflammatory messaging from one or two members of Congress is a real problem that needs to be confronted," Ari Fleischer, press secretary to former President George W. Bush, told Axios.

"People won't listen to you if they think you don't like them."

  • Fleischer helped author a 2013 report that found the survival of the GOP relies on more inclusive messaging, as well as policies attracting the growing universe of nonwhite voters.
  • He said the GOP measurably improved its standing among Jewish votes after such an outreach effort.
  • "I would like to see Republicans set their sights on the Black community."

Yes, but: Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said he supports putting a Black woman on the nation's highest court.

  • He's lobbied for federal Judge J. Michelle Childs, who's from his home state of South Carolina.
  • “Put me in the camp of making sure the court and other institutions look like America,” Graham said.
  • “We make a real effort as Republicans to recruit women and people of color, to make the party look more like America.”

The big picture: The Republican Party has steadily picked up Black voters over the past three presidential elections.

  • Trump — despite his race-based rhetoric — won 19% of the Black male vote in 2020.

Editor's note: This story has been corrected to indicate that Sen. Kennedy is not opposed to Biden's promise to nominate a Black woman to the Supreme Court, according to his office.

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