Black, fe­male, Repub­li­can — and gone

Albany Times Union - Sunday - - PERSPECTIVE EXTRA - By Frank Bruni ▶ Frank Bruni is a New York Times colum­nist.

From proud Repub­li­can har­bin­ger to sad Repub­li­can cast­away — that’s the story of Rep. Mia Love, who fi­nally con­ceded her ex­traor­di­nar­ily close House race Mon­day.

It’s the story of her party, re­ally. Of what it once re­al­ized about the fu­ture and how it slouched back­ward into the past. Of trad­ing the elixir of hope for the toxin of fear.

It charts Repub­li­cans’ ugly drift un­der Don­ald Trump, who rooted for her de­feat not only as the votes in Utah’s 4th Con­gres­sional Dis­trict were still be­ing counted (“Mia Love gave me no love,” the pres­i­dent pouted) but with all that he said on the cam­paign trail and has done in the White House. Tac­itly and ex­plic­itly, he has sown dis­dain for the likes of Love, a daugh­ter of Haitian im­mi­grants who, in 2014, be­came the first black Repub­li­can woman ever elected to ei­ther cham­ber of Con­gress.

She re­mains the only one. When she leaves at the end of this year, there will be just two black Repub­li­can men — one in the House and one in the Se­nate.

Ev­ery­thing you heard about the ex­cit­ing di­ver­si­fi­ca­tion of midterm races? About the sig­nif­i­cantly in­creased num­bers of women run­ning for of­fice, of peo­ple of color, of LGBT can­di­dates?

That was on the Demo­cratic side. The Repub­li­cans ei­ther couldn’t be both­ered, couldn’t find any tak­ers or — my guess — both. Love called that out in a re­mark­able con­ces­sion speech Mon­day. To the vic­tor go the spoils, but from the van­quished comes the can­dor.

“Be­cause Repub­li­cans never take mi­nor­ity com­mu­ni­ties into their home and cit­i­zens into their homes and into their hearts, they stay with Democrats,” Love said. Democrats “do take them home — or at least make them feel like they have a home.”

In de­feat, she added, “I am un­leashed, I am un­teth­ered and I am un­shack­led, and I can say ex­actly what’s on my mind.”

That lan­guage was a mea­sure of her anger, an ad­mis­sion of how much she had con­cealed and an ex­am­ple of why she’s a flawed mes­sen­ger, her righ­teous­ness in full flower only now that there’s no im­me­di­ate price to pay for it.

She should be lis­tened to nonethe­less.

Go back to 2012. She was the 36-year-old mayor of Saratoga Springs, Utah, and Repub­li­can lead­ers couldn’t em­brace her tightly enough. They loved her pro­file, her arc: par­ents who had fled poverty and chaos (and who didn’t be­come Amer­i­can cit­i­zens un­til af­ter her birth); the fam­ily’s new be­gin­ning in Brook­lyn; her col­lege ed­u­ca­tion; her in­ter­ra­cial mar­riage; her three chil­dren.

By pro­mot­ing her, those lead­ers ad­ver­tised open­ness to young peo­ple, to mi­nori­ties, to im­mi­grants. They steered her can­di­dacy for the House that year, send­ing Wash­ing­ton po­lit­i­cal re­porters her way and giv­ing her a speak­ing slot at the Repub­li­can Na­tional Con­ven­tion. She al­luded glow­ingly to Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks even as she urged that Pres­i­dent Barack Obama not be re-elected. She be­came a na­tional story.

That may be why she lost that race: She seemed too far ahead of her­self, too far afield of lo­cal con­cerns. But two years later, she won, be­com­ing not just the first black Repub­li­can woman in Con­gress but also the first Haitianamer­i­can.

Th­ese were the first sen­tences of a Wash­ing­ton Post ar­ti­cle about her vic­tory: “For at least half a cen­tury, the party of Lin­coln has bat­tled charges that it is racist, sex­ist and an­ti­im­mi­grant. To­day, vot­ers from a con­ser­va­tive state made those ar­gu­ments a lit­tle bit harder to make.”

“This was huge,” the ar­ti­cle went on to say. “A party threat­ened with elec­toral ex­tinc­tion among African-amer­i­cans and im­mi­grants now has some­one to brag about in Wash­ing­ton.”

This was when Repub­li­cans were still se­ri­ously mulling the fa­mous “au­topsy” af­ter Mitt Rom­ney’s 2012 de­feat, a doc­u­ment that cau­tioned them against harsh rhetoric and re­sis­tance to the coun­try’s de­mo­graphic changes. This was about six months be­fore Trump came down that es­ca­la­tor in Trump Tower and ranted about rapists from Mex­ico.

Then came the Mus­lim ban, the singling-out of black ath­letes, the equiv­o­ca­tion over white su­prem­a­cists in Char­lottes­ville, Vir­ginia, and the re­ported use of a vul­gar ad­jec­tive to den­i­grate coun­tries, in­clud­ing Haiti, from which im­mi­grants of color came to the United States.

Love is­sued a pub­lic state­ment about that last in­dig­nity, de­nounc­ing the pres­i­dent’s re­marks and im­plor­ing him to apol­o­gize. Of course he never did.

And dur­ing her 2018 re­elec­tion bid, she kept him at arm’s length, as did many other Repub­li­cans cam­paign­ing in ar­eas, like hers, where sup­port for him wasn’t strong. Asked by a re­porter whether she would back the pres­i­dent in 2020, she said, “I don’t know.”

Did he cost her the elec­tion any­way? Im­pos­si­ble to say. She had her own short­com­ings. But this much is cer­tain: Once her­alded as a Repub­li­can am­bas­sador, she has been es­tab­lished as a Repub­li­can anom­aly.

The House is about to wel­come nine new black law­mak­ers. None are Repub­li­cans. It’s about to wel­come at least 36 new fe­male law­mak­ers. Only one is Repub­li­can. Among a to­tal count of at least 102 women in the new House, there are nearly seven times as many Democrats as Repub­li­cans.

For now, maybe, th­ese num­bers don’t spell the Repub­li­can Party’s death. But they’re no way to live.

Rick Bowmer / As­so­ci­ated Press

Sur­rounded by her fam­ily, Rep. Mia Love, R-utah, talks about elec­tion re­sults in the 4th Con­gres­sional Dis­trict at the Utah Repub­li­can Party head­quar­ters Mon­day in Salt Lake City.

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