For decades, the Democratic Party has maintained a robust advantage among Black voters in America. Yet the Black voting bloc is hardly a monolith and has diverse views. 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.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
ESSENCE: Please describe the Republican Party in 2021 and its diversity.
PD: 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. We added two Black Republicans to Congress, Representatives Byron Donalds (R-FL) and Burgess Owens (R-UT). And we continue to have Black women vie for the GOP nomination for a host of races ahead of the 2022 midterm election. This year, Winsome Sears made history by becoming the first Black Republican woman nominee for Lt. Governor in Virginia. In 2019, Roxy Ndebumadu was elected to the City Council in Bowie, Maryland.
ESSENCE: Discuss the Republican Party’s platform, priorities and how they address Black Americans.
PD: 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.
When it comes to healthcare, we believe there should be options, transparency, and a reduction of costs. Thanks to the leadership of then-President Trump and Operation Warp Speed, we have vaccines to combat COVID-19. Economic opportunities like access to capital and many of the things outlined in Trump’s Black Economic Plan rooted in free enterprise should be implemented realizing the growing number of Black women entrepreneurs in America.
Lastly, when the education and achievement gap is so wide, we should have schools re-opened so parents can return to work and students can get back to full-time, in-person learning of basics like reading, writing and arithmetic instead of Critical Race Theory. Teaching about morals and values they should get at home is wrong especially when it is taking time away to re-write history and teach it from a perspective that does not unify but further divides America’s children along racial lines. We have grown so accustomed to being segmented so that there are Black issues and White issues. While there are issues that may pertain more to one group over another there are some overarching issues that are universal.
ESSENCE: What kind of representation do Black women have within the Republican Party and broadly in GOP organizations, etc.?
PD: 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. Additionally, the RNC has several Black women in important managerial roles in accounting, finance, and direct mail. In the RNC Communications division, one of our interns is an exceptional young Black woman named Jessica Herron from the University of Mississippi.
Outside the RNC, we have Black women leading conservative organizations like the Honorable Kay Coles James, president of the Heritage Foundation and founder of the Gloucester Institute. Angela Sailor was formerly Coalitions Director at the RNC and is now Vice President at The Feulner Institute; and Star Parker is founder of CURE.
In the Trump campaign, Katrina Pierson was the first Black woman to serve as the National Spokesperson for a Republican Presidential Campaign.
Black women who Trump appointed who currently serve include: Ada E. Brown and Stephanie Dawkins Davis to U.S. District Courts. Those who previously served include: Lynne Patton, former Regional Administrator, Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD); Deanna Bass, former Deputy Chief of Staff, (HUD); Nicole Frazier, former Special Assistant to the President and Director of Strategic Partnerships and African American Outreach; Mary Elizabeth Taylor, former Assistant Secretary of State for Legislative Affairs; Aurelia Skipwith, former Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; and Jacquelyn Hayes-Byrd, former Executive Director, VA Center for Women Veterans. Trump also nominated Col. Lorna M. Mahlock, who became the first Black woman brigadier general to serve in the U.S. Marine Corps.
Ada M. Fisher, M.D. served as the first Black woman elected as a RNC national committee-woman for North Carolina. And Whitley Yates, a millennial, is a former RNC Rising Star serving as Director of Diversity & Engagement for the Indiana Republican Party.
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.
PD: 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.
Having worked on the campaign with Black women like Katrina Pierson, Gail Wilson, Alveda King and Deneen Borelli on Black Voices for Trump, I am proud that in 2020, President Trump increased to 12% of the Black vote, more than doubled his support with Black women to 9% and increased his support among Black men [specifically, those with a high school diploma or less] to 26 percent.
The RNC— with the Trump campaign— initiated [what they told ESSENCE is] 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.
President Joe Biden received more than 81 million votes, and along with Kamala Harris, America’s first woman and Black/Southeast Asian American Vice President, made history. Since that time, the former president and other Republicans have alleged the election was stolen, what’s being called the Big Lie. Does the Republican Party acknowledge the election results?
PD: Yes, the party can accept that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris have been certified and sworn in as the President and Vice President of the United States. At the same time, we are working on the issue of election integrity to ensure all Americans feel confident in our election system at every level in future elections.
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.
PD: 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.
Moreover, the new Georgia law expanded weekend voting and provides more opportunity to vote. The new Georgia law does not prohibit people from drinking or receiving water in line, it just changes who can give it to you to prevent Republican or Democratic Party operatives from influencing your vote in line. The RNC wants more civic participation from American citizens. During the last election we proudly participated in the #Reclaimyourvote Black Voter Registration Day events and hosted events registering Black voters.
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: Congress recently held a hearing about the deadly insurrection on January 6 at the Capitol. It happened after a rally with Trump and his supporters who sought to disrupt the Congressional count of electoral votes. The tragic episode struck a nerve for many Americans, and Black Americans who alleged racism, double standards in how the rioters were treated and more. Your thoughts?
PD: I was at an event with RNC Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel in Florida on January 6 when we found out someone had planted a live pipe bomb at the RNC headquarters with some of our colleagues inside. Then we all found out about what happened at the U.S. Capitol in real time. Like our RNC Chairwoman, I was outraged at what we all saw on TV at the capitol because we had been strong in our condemnation of the rioting, looting, violence and even deaths (Captain David Dorn) that we saw in many Black communities that summer because we are the party that stands for public safety and respecting law enforcement. When people cross the line by breaking the law or using violence, it is wrong and should be denounced. Chairwoman McDaniel did not hesitate to issue a public statement on behalf of the Republican Party condemning the lawlessness and it was the right thing to do.
What other message would you like to share with Black voters about the Republican Party?
PD: I have been a Republican my entire life. Raised by a single mother with the help of my amazing grandparents. My work ethic and values came from them. 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.