Donna M. Owens
Historically, the Republican Party has had Black members. Today, the GOP says it has a political message they want Black communities to hear. In an exclusive, ESSENCE spoke to Paris Dennard, the Republican National Committee (RNC) National Spokesperson and Director of Black Media Affairs.
ESSENCE: Please describe the Republican Party in 2021 and its diversity.
Paris Dennard: “The Republican Party is even more diverse in 2021 thanks to the intentional efforts to expand the reach of our party in diverse communities. In the last election, Republicans flipped 15 Congressional seats from Democrat to Republican. In each of those seats that flipped to the GOP, the elected winner was either a woman or minority.”
ESSENCE: Discuss the Republican Party’s platform, priorities and how they address Black Americans.
Paris Dennard: “Members of the Republican Party come from all walks of life. We are a pro-life party. The GOP supports issues that Black Americans care about like school choice in education, investing in HBCUs (with former President Donald Trump providing permanent HBCU funding for the first time); having safe communities; reducing taxes; police reform via the JUSTICE Act, and standing against any attempt to defund the police which [the GOP believes] makes many urban and communities of color unsafe.”
ESSENCE: What kind of representation do Black women have within the Republican Party and broadly in GOP organizations, etc.?
Paris Dennard: “Black women have always played a role and had significant representation within the Republican Party at all levels. At the RNC, our Chief Operating Officer is a Black woman Earnestine ‘Tinna’ Jackson who has a distinguished career of working in both the public and private sector.”
ESSENCE: Let’s go back to the 2020 presidential election. The Republican Party actively courted Black voters and there was some traction in terms of votes received. Please elaborate.
Paris Dennard: “RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel and President Trump made Black voter engagement a high priority and were intentional about it. So yes, the GOP did, and continues to actively work to earn the vote of Black Americans. President Donald Trump garnered more than 74 million votes in the last election, and that included millions of votes from Black Americans.
“The RNC— with the Trump campaign— initiated the largest Republican Black engagement effort in RNC history. The RNC invested millions of dollars into 15 community centers in Black neighborhoods, staffed by many Black women from the community. These centers served as the home base for voter training, registration, education, engagement and GOTV efforts where we safely knocked on doors and phone banked from our centers in states like Georgia, Florida, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin.The RNC invested over six figures in ad buys for Black newspapers all over the country in 2020 and ads in Black publications continue in 2021.”
ESSENCE: Voting rights are a major issue of concern for Black Americans. Democrats and others charge that Republican state legislatures are trying to turn back the clock and suppress votes. Please discuss.
Paris Dennard: “My family comes from Cordele, Georgia so I understand the sacrifices made by my ancestors to help secure Black Americans and women the right to vote. Too many people that look like me literally fought, bled, sacrificed, and died for my right to vote as a Republican because we are free to have our own opinions, free to have our own thoughts and free to vote for any political party.
“When Democrats made sweeping changes to voter laws due to COVID-19 drastically changing how and when we voted and how the votes were collected and tabulated, there was no issue from [critics]. Republicans sought to make sure those temporary pandemic changes were not codified, and the laws were enhanced to both expand voting and make it more secure.
“Polls show the majority of Americans support showing voter ID to vote and get an absentee ballot. When Republicans raised concerns, it was condemned. That is wrong.
“We know there are millions of Black voters who are willing to give the Republican Party a first or second look and want to vote for us. When they do, it should be safe and secure and their actual vote. We want to make it easier to vote, and harder to cheat.”
ESSENCE: What other message would you like to share with Black voters about the Republican Party?
Paris Dennard: “I look at my community and the party today and see issues and positions where we should be in more agreement, and we are working to do that here at the RNC. What I found was that when I got down to the facts, policies and listened to the people in the Republican Party, I found common ground and alignment with my values. I found a party that had people that were sincerely interested in expanding the party and addressing issues important to my family. Today, the RNC has committed $2 million to continue our Community Centers in dozens of Black neighborhoods this year heading into the midterm election. The GOP is the party that stands for Criminal Justice Reform, Opportunity Zones, supporting HBCUs, Police Reform, and entrepreneurship. We’re the party that fights to put Americans first. The Republican Party I know is the party that values and fights for people just like my mom.”
Click here to read more.