August 30th, 2012
11:55 AM ET

Opinion: GOP needs street credibility on diversity

Editor's note: Sophia A. Nelson is a columnist and political analyst. She is the author of "Black Woman Redefined: Dispelling Myths and Discovering Fulfillment in the Age of Michelle Obama."

By Sophia A. Nelson, Special to CNN

(CNN) - Let’s get right to it: The Republican National Convention has struggled with balancing imagery and tone when it comes to the matter of its lack of diversity and inclusion.

This is nothing new.

However, what has struck this former lifelong Republican-turned-independent is that the convention has staked its future on “nostalgia” versus “newness.”

Republicans, including a rousing speech by former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, are asking Americans to look back, to remember who we were and to remember what made us great.

Not a bad thing I guess if you are over 50, white, from the South or Midwest and feel like the America you once loved has gone to hell in a handbasket.

The problem with this vision, for many Americans, is that it is not inspirational.  It does not invoke a new frontier, a new way forward. It does not offer a way out of the pain and distress that the Great Recession has had on people of color.

Communities of color look for candidates who can relate to their unique American experience: hence the great success of Bill Clinton and Barack Obama versus the lackluster support for Al Gore and John Kerry.

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The Mitt Romney-Paul Ryan vision is a pragmatic, reasonable business approach to problem-solving. Good stuff if you are working in corporate America or on Wall Street. Not so much if you are on Main Street and need to feel comfortable with the guy who sits in the Oval Office.

Republicans have a “message” problem and are unable to connect with communities of color, and they also have a “messenger" problem. Here is my advice on how they can gain credibility with these communities. 

Public polling data has confirmed for years that African-Americans and Latinos are fairly conservative when it comes to their values. Both communities tend to believe in pulling oneself up by the proverbial bootstraps. Both communities lag far behind in the national economic wealth and prosperity gap.

Republicans, looking at the inevitable browning of America, should have mapped out a political strategy that would have helped them make significant inroads into communities of color since the 1990s.

But they have not.

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Let me tell you why.

The same architects who devised the infamous GOP Southern strategy are still largely in control. They like things the way they are. Ask Michael Steele, the former Republican National Committee chairman who was run out for daring to invest financial resources in real, sustained coalition building. I know these people, and that is why I could no longer be in a party where voices such as the late Jack Kemp (Ryan’s mentor) and Christine Todd Whitman (my former boss) were being silenced.

The GOP no longer has great statesmen such as Everett Dirksen, Gerald Ford or Ed Brooke.

Opinion: At convention, GOP leaders reflect U.S. diversity

On Thursday night, Romney will make his case to the American people as to why they should hire him and fire Obama as president. I would suggest he find a way to speak to all the American people.  My unsolicited advice to the Republican nominee is the same advice I give to Fortune 500 companies on how to recruit, and keep, women of color:

  • Have a “hook": Let people know what you can offer them. If you can’t get this right, you lose.
  • Create a welcome environment where people feel safe to be themselves.
  • Offer a vision that includes everyone.  People stay and thrive where they feel welcome, appreciated and included. They must see people who look like them and who share their life experience succeeding.  This is critical.

If Romney and the Republicans truly want to build an inclusive GOP, versus one just made for TV, they will need to heed this advice. Republicans will not make significant inroads with communities of color until they gain some “street credibility” by including and developing leaders who are respected, who can walk the talk and bring the message to the masses.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Sophia A. Nelson.

soundoff (34 Responses)
  1. Dave Young

    Is "diversity" the same as accepting immorality and perversion ? Discuss.

    September 6, 2012 at 12:16 am | Report abuse |
  2. Dave Young

    More blatant racism from the racists.....The DNC makes me sick.

    September 6, 2012 at 12:13 am | Report abuse |
  3. Jorge

    The GOP doesn't need a thing, and they certainly don't need my vote, because they don't represent people like me, of limited resources who have had to live off the blood (YES,BLOOD), sweat and tears of our minority blue-collar labor, could never slip by without accounting for a single penny of our salary, who oftentimes have had to tell their kids that they would have to do without, because a good part of our pay was assigned to taxes for belligerent searches for "weapons of mass destruction", no-bid contracts for mysterious, favored contractors and for tax breaks to rich folks who buy our companies and ship them overseas. Nope, I never asked a Republican (or any other politician, for that matter), to do a damn thing for me, and no Republican needs a damn thing from me.

    September 4, 2012 at 8:12 am | Report abuse |
  4. PL

    What Mitt will not tell you is the vision of the Mormon Church "prophets" on "dark skin" people. According to the Mormon doctrine, after the big heavenly war, the ones who rebelled against Jesus were marked so that they may be easily distinguished. Guess how?.. Exactly! They would be born with a dark skin!
    Yes, this means that, not only blacks, but also any other "dark skin" people are second rate at all levels to Mitt and the rest of the Mormons. And this is the truth!

    September 4, 2012 at 5:34 am | Report abuse |
    • sparon

      Please cite your reference from any of the official mormon books. You know this is not true. Thanks

      September 5, 2012 at 3:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • coloradoDad

      Alma 3:6

      6 And the skins of the Lamanites were dark, according to the mark which was set upon their fathers, which was a curse upon them because of their transgression and their rebellion against their brethren, who consisted of Nephi, Jacob, and Joseph, and Sam, who were just and holy men.

      September 5, 2012 at 4:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dave Young

      Obama loves The Muslim Brotherhood. I will take a Mormon anyday.

      September 6, 2012 at 12:20 am | Report abuse |
  5. canofpencils

    Today is Labor Day- not Robber Baron day. White , Black, who cares all corporate america has stolen from the worker. Romney? your kidding- he's tighter than a popcorn fart and boy wonder? The voter never grows up it seems

    September 3, 2012 at 5:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • air2air2

      canofpencils you're living proof that the Democrats are out of ammo. If successful businesspeople are now 'Robber Barons' you truly need to take an economics class, or at least basic civics.

      September 3, 2012 at 5:53 pm | Report abuse |
  6. canofpencils

    Street cred? what nonsense is that. This republican ticket is as bad as Bush and company. Robber Barons all- I dont care what color they are. They are the 'haves' and we are the have nots and if you think you will sit at the same table as them -wake up

    September 3, 2012 at 5:32 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Evan

    It doesn't take a genius to realize the speakers the GOP trotted out was to create the illusion of diversity. Unfortunately, the shots of the overwhelmingly white-bread over 50 audience members shied exactly what the GOP is living on borrowed time. And I can't help,but laugh when some of you takemthenhigh road and claim the GOP doesn't care about what you are. Ha ha. I guess they can fool their base, but please, independents are too smart for that BS.

    September 3, 2012 at 12:19 pm | Report abuse |
  8. air2air2

    CNN, when you accuse minorities of being one-dimensional Liberals it sounds pretty racist. At least according to Tea Party leaders Herman Cain and Allen West.

    September 1, 2012 at 3:35 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Maybe you are looking for the wrong think in a president

    "The Mitt Romney-Paul Ryan vision is a pragmatic, reasonable business approach to problem-solving. Good stuff if you are working in corporate America or on Wall Street. Not so much if you are on Main Street and need to feel comfortable with the guy who sits in the Oval Office."

    August 31, 2012 at 1:13 am | Report abuse |
    • BTLProd

      With almost his entire presidency above 8% unemployment, the lowest percentage of able bodies people in the work force, and the coming double dip recession due to tax increases, how does the current occupant of the White House make you feel secure?

      September 2, 2012 at 11:12 am | Report abuse |
      • frespech

        Because he is doing his best to overcome a blatantly obstructive Republican Congress.

        September 6, 2012 at 1:18 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Free the Dumb Kwans

    Here's a better idea. We split the country up into ethnically oriented Republics. Presto, no more racism because white people are no longer forced by the tyranny in Washington to live with "people" they are incompatible with. And, all you great black folks can show the world just how great you can be when white people are no longer around to hold you down. Diversity is just a code word for anti-white.

    August 31, 2012 at 12:36 am | Report abuse |
  11. Do you want to be treated as equals or not?

    Republicans talk about the future of our country without dividing people into categories. This author sounds like she thinks "people of color" (her words) agree with Republican ideals but won't vote for them because they want to be treated differently than the white people in America. Weird philosophy when "people of color" have supposedly been fighting for decades to be treated the same.

    August 31, 2012 at 12:34 am | Report abuse |
    • momofour1

      @ "Do you want to be treated as equals or not?"
      This is not about wanting to be treated differently. This is about knowing who your target groups are and how to appeal to them. I have found that a lot of whites just cannot relate or put themselves in the shoes of colored/multi-ethnic cultural groups and because they cannot relate through their ignorance or lack of compassion – they lose big time.

      August 31, 2012 at 12:01 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Michael Lee

    The GOP simply doesnt have a real interest in governing for people of color

    thats their biggest problem

    August 30, 2012 at 11:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • Hatred will destroy you !

      That i sthe problem with liberals. They can't govern for everybody. They have worked at defining so many grievence groups with special needs and problems that they have forgotten America is the great melting pot

      August 31, 2012 at 12:02 am | Report abuse |
    • Christopher

      "People of color" have no interest in working with, compromising or doing anything that they see might be mutually beneficial for white people. "People of color" are filled with hate and racism. That's your biggest problem.

      August 31, 2012 at 12:22 am | Report abuse |
      • Cherise

        "People of color" have no interest in working with, compromising or doing anything that they see might be mutually beneficial for white people. "People of color" are filled with hate and racism. That's your biggest problem."- Christopher

        The initial and utmost fallacy in your statement is encompassed within the generalization you just made. To assume that all people of color are filled with hate means you have no idea about the world around you. Just as any other people, we come from different cultures. So in respect to this article (which some people forget to even consider when making frivolous and foolish comments), the point is we are trying to see where are values and cultural beliefs will fit into this Republican party. As a swing voter (African-American and female), I am looking to connect with the candidate and the party he or she identifies with. If I can't connect, chances are I can't support and vote that way. Plain and simple. I urge you to make an honest effort to surround yourself with people who aren't like you so you can get a better understanding of the people different from you and the world itself because your comment proves your insight is severely limited.

        August 31, 2012 at 12:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • air2air2

      Michael, you are correct – the GOP simply doesnt have a real interest in governing for people of color.

      Unlike Dems, we define people by who they are; not what they are. We don't do race – Just like the great republican MLK.

      September 1, 2012 at 3:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • BTLProd

      Read the writings of Martin Luther King Jr. especially the "I have a dream speech, and then tell me that you think a person should hold a job just because of the color of their skin, and it should have nothing to do with competence.

      September 2, 2012 at 11:09 am | Report abuse |
  13. BTLProd

    Need Street Cred?
    Clarence Thomas – appointed by a Republican President and the Democrats fought against him.
    Colin Powell, Secretary of State.
    Condoleeza Rice Secretary of State.
    Alberto Gonzalez Attorney General.

    etc. etc.

    August 30, 2012 at 8:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • Huh?

      Definitely not enough. Now if Herman Cain was the Presidential nominee for the Republican Party, THEN there can be some SERIOUS street cred. Instead, the GOP stuck with the same ol' same ol.

      August 30, 2012 at 10:39 pm | Report abuse |
      • BTLProd

        It is more than the Democrats have done.

        Hire a person based on their capability, not based on the color of their skin. Wasn't that was Martin Luther King Jr.'s "Dream" was all about?

        September 2, 2012 at 11:05 am | Report abuse |
    • Cherise

      The credibility has to be spread across all levels. Local, county, state, etc. If the only diversity I see is on the national level but virtually little to none on the local and state level, then the vision is only being implemented on the top- which appears as though that's the only place where the vision is actually a priority.

      August 31, 2012 at 12:39 pm | Report abuse |
      • BTLProd

        And where is the Democrat Credibility? A Racist Attorney General? A Racist President?

        Seems, to me, the Democrats got it wrong.

        September 2, 2012 at 11:07 am | Report abuse |
      • Mark

        Chireece! Nonsense..... your words indicate that you are theoretically calibrating the essence of being a person of color (black) in an obtuse world where color is the anti-thesis of oblivion. In retrospect, the support of any political stream of consciousness is highly dependant on the cultural misgivings of any repudiated non-color person in a colorized world enigma, such as Michelle Obama. The fundamental change will only be realized when colonialism of regendered atrophy is subjected to a larger forum where anti-articulated regression is paramount to hypo alerginc sterotypes.

        September 3, 2012 at 6:57 pm | Report abuse |

      The service these people done for us is not to be applauded:
      Thomas Voted against Obama care
      Rice & Powell: Told lies to get us into the Iraq war
      Gonzales; Wrongly fired several State Attorney Generals.

      September 6, 2012 at 3:39 am | Report abuse |
  14. Steve D

    It was a real joke how they lined up a parade of minority speakers that all toed the party line. It was like they called a casting company and said this is what we need. Hi I'm Yanez and I'm here to show you latinos buy into this republican crap. Hi I'm Leroy and I'm here to tell you that people like us are republicans too. Hi I'm the candidates wife and I have MS and breast cancer so you should feel sorry for me and vote for my husband. And then....that phony kiss. It was almost identical to Al and Tipper Gore's kiss and we all know how well that ended.

    August 30, 2012 at 4:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • Huh?

      Tokenism is cheap compared to the first African-American, i.e. minority, President of the United States of America.

      August 30, 2012 at 10:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • Hatred will destroy you !

      Do you have something to offer us all other than your hatred sir ?

      August 31, 2012 at 12:00 am | Report abuse |