Tim Scott anchors most diverse Republican field in 2024. Will it gain GOP more Black voters?
Sandra Green says she is not aware of ever having been called any of the slurs associated with Black voters who cast their ballots for Republicans.
The 54-year-old Texan, who works as a life insurance representative, said her faith and values have always leaned conservative, even when she didn’t vote for the GOP during the Clinton administration. But she is keenly aware of how Black Republican voters and elected officials are sharply criticized as being subservient to white people.
“I think it’s a power play, and those words are used to keep Black people in line or in check, but to me it’s kind of demonic,” she said.
Green said that as she begins to pay closer attention to the 2024 presidential contest, she is increasingly impressed with Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., who is leaning into debates about race in America during the early stages of the campaign.
“What I like about Tim Scott is that he can engage people and articulate solutions that don’t necessarily pit people against each other,” Green said.
The moves are part of a larger “sunrise” strategy to distinguish Scott from other GOP contenders, and one the lone Black Republican in the Senate believes is resonating with some non-white Americans because they feel taken for granted by the Democrats.
“I think minority voters are trending toward the Republican Party. That’s great news,” Scott told USA TODAY.
Republican voters in 2024 have the most diverse field of presidential contenders in history with Scott and others, such as former Rep. Will Hurd, political commentator Larry Elder, and former Gov. Nikki Haley and Vivek Ramaswamy, both the children of Indian immigrants.
Scott and other conservatives of color’s commentary on race, often delivered before mostly white audiences, have thrust Black conservatives to the forefront of the political debate with many asking if their rise represents a genuine shift among minority voters or an attempt to suffocate demands for racial justice.
Black conservatives and ‘linked-fate’
Black Republicans are often derided by liberal critics as either colorblind dupes or, at worst, traitors to their race who have turned their back on their community.
Experts say there are important distinctions, however, that are rarely talked about to explain their political outlook.
“We know that Black political ideology is far more complex than the vast majority of Black adults who vote Democratic,” said Kiana Cox, an associate at the Pew Research Center.
Cox co-authored a 2022 survey that found many overlaps among all Black voters regardless of party affiliation in terms of income, ethnic pride and being discriminated against.
Sixty-six percent of Black Republicans in the survey, for instance, said their ancestry is, “extremely or very important part of their personal identity.” That matches the roughly 65% of Black Democrats who said they same.
Likewise, 79% of Black GOP voters said they have experienced racism in their life, which mirrors the 80% of their Democratic counterparts.
Where the partisan divide begins appear within the Black community, Cox said, are in three key areas.
The study shows Republicans are less likely to attend a predominately Black church than Democrats by about 12%, for instance.
About six-in-ten Republicans said being Black is an extremely or very important part of how they think about themselves, which is less than the roughly eight-in-ten Democrats who said the same.
But the biggest factor experts say is how GOP voters in Black America view their personal lives and triumphs compared to the whole of the community. The study found they less likely to hold a belief in “linked fate,” which is how much they see their individual life connected to others in the same group.
Thirty-nine percent of Black Republicans said everything or most things that happen to Black people in the U.S. will impact their personal lives, which is far less than the 57% of Black Democrats who agreed with that statement.
“By and large, we see that Black Republicans, when we look at their views on racial issues, they tend to have a more individualistic approach when it comes to assessing racial inequality and when it comes to offering remedies for that inequality,” Cox said.
“So, for example, Black Republicans are more likely than Black Democrats to say that if Black people can’t get ahead, they’re responsible for that.”
Black voters remain sharply skeptical of GOP candidates of color
Leah Wright Rigueur, a historian at Johns Hopkins University, who has written extensively about Black Republicans, said studies show even more conservative-leaning Black voters judge candidates such as Scott more harshly than white GOP candidates because they view it as a betrayal.
She said Black voters also take notice how non-white GOP candidates avoid delivering their message in their communities and political spaces.
“That critical mass (of Black support) will never happen as long as Black audiences feel like the candidate in question does not have black people’s best interests in mind, let alone trying to actively harm them,” Rigueur said.
Scott didn’t address directly a USA TODAY question on how his discussions on race often take place in front of almost exclusively white audiences. He instead emphasized that the GOP has plenty to offer minority voters, such as supporting funding for historically Black colleges and universities, or the advancement of research and development on sickle cell anemia.
“So we figured out how to make sure that we had American solutions to American problems, not focus simply on race, but focus on economics,” Scott said.
That is the tightrope most Black Republican candidates walk as they have seen significant electoral wins as of late, even as critics call attention to their silence and complicity in regards to the party’s aggressive posture against diversity initiatives.
“So I make history. So what? It’s done,” Sears told USA TODAY in a 2021 interview. “And now what the people want to know is, how are you going to govern? What are your policies? What are your issues? How are you going to serve us? Because that’s what this is about.”
Republican Daniel Cameron, who is making a historic bid to be Kentucky’s first Black governor in 2023, said the recent trends reflect a reaction among Black voters to the Democratic Party, which he cast as being, “captured by far-left ideas.”
“I think Black people, particularly Black men, are growing to see that the Republican Party is more in line with their values,” Cameron told USA TODAY.
The Bluegrass State will test how Cameron, and other Black conservatives, navigate controversial questions of race and their role in shaping those policies.
Much like Scott and his presidential bid, Cameron touts his heritage in front of mostly white audiences while remaining a steadfast conservative on crime, trans rights and other issues.
After coasting to win the GOP nomination for governor in May, he told supporters during his victory speech how anyone who, “looks like me… can achieve anything” in the country. “All that matters is your values,” he said.
Cameron said his campaign is a reflection that those core values and policy solutions matter as much racial identity to Black voters, who he said want good paying jobs; police to be funded; and their children to have a quality education.
But he said he often feels Black conservatives are held to a double standard, and treated more sharply by news outlets and other critics than Democratic candidates when it comes to racial controversies and other cultural issues.
“I often get asked to denounce every racist comment or behavior,” Cameron said.