The Maui News
Diverse Republican presidential primary field sees an opening in 2024 with voters of color
CHICAGO — During Donald Trump’s first visit as president to Chicago, a frequent target in his attacks on urban violence, he disparaged the nation’s third largest city as a haven for criminals and a national embarrassment. At a recent town hall, Republican presidential contender Vivek Ramaswamy sat alongside ex-convicts on the city’s South Side and promised to defend Trump’s “America First” agenda. In return, the little-known White House hopeful, a child of Indian immigrants, found a flicker of acceptance in a room full of Black and brown voters.
The audience nodded when Ramaswamy said that “anti-Black racism is on the rise,” even if they took issue with his promise to eliminate affirmative action and fight “woke” policies.
“Yes, we criticize the Democratic Party, and for good reason, for talking a big game about helping Black Americans without doing very much to actually show up and help on the ground,” he said later. “But we on our side also talk a big game about America First without actually bringing all of America along with us.”
Race has emerged as a central issue — and a delicate one — in the 2024 presidential contest as the GOP’s primary field so far features four candidates of color, making it among the most racially diverse ever.
South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, the first Black senator in the South since Reconstruction, entered the contest earlier in the month. He joined Nikki Haley, a former South Carolina governor and
U.N. ambassador who is of Indian descent, and Larry Elder, an African American raised in Los Angeles’ South Central neighborhood who came to national attention as a candidate in the failed effort two years ago to recall California Gov. Gavin Newsom. Miami Mayor Francis Suarez, who is of Cuban descent, says he may enter the race in the coming days.
Most of the candidates of color are considered underdogs in a field currently dominated by Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.
Yet the party’s increasingly diverse leadership, backed by evolving politics on issues such as immigration, suggest the GOP may have a real opportunity in 2024 to further weaken the Democrats’ grip on African Americans and Latinos. Those groups have been among the most loyal segments of the Democratic coalition since Republican leaders fought against the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The Republican presidential contenders of 2024 walk a fine line when addressing race with the GOP’s overwhelmingly white primary electorate.
In most cases, the diverse candidates in the Republican field play down the significance of their racial heritage. They all deny the existence of systemic racism in the United States even while discussing their own personal experience with racial discrimination. They oppose policies around policing, voting rights and education that are specifically designed to benefit disadvantaged communities and combat structural racism.
The NAACP recently issued a travel advisory for the state of Florida under DeSantis’ leadership, warning of open hostility “toward
African Americans, people of color and LGBTQ+ individuals.” The notice calls out new policies enacted by the governor that include blocking public schools from teaching students about systemic racism and defunding programs aimed at diversity, equity and inclusion.
The Republican presidential candidates of color largely support DeSantis’ positions.
Marc Morial, president and CEO of the National Urban League, said the GOP’s policies are far more important than the racial and ethnic diversity of their presidential candidates. He noted there also were four Republican candidates of color in 2016, the year Trump won the White House after exploiting tensions over race and immigration.
“White nationalists, insurrectionists and white supremacists seem to find comfort in the (Republican) Party,” Morial said. “I think we’re beyond the politics of just the face of a person of color by itself appealing to people of color. What do you stand for?”