GOP to discuss minority outreach at ‘Burwell Plantation’ room

Opinion

Republicans, healthcare

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Va., walks from the House floor as he manages the vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act which he sponsored, Wednesday, July 11, 2012, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Currently, the House Democratic caucus is made up of nearly half minorities (47 percent), versus a GOP House caucus that is 90 percent white men. (The Senate is more problematic for both parties, with just one black Senator — Republican Tim Scott of South Carolina.) When it comes to women, the calculus is much the same: more than 30 percent of the House Democratic caucus is female, versus less than 10 percent of the Republican House membership.

And while there are 41 black Democrats in the House, with Tim Scott of South Carolina getting a promotion to the Senate by his state’s governor, and Allen West losing his seat in the last election, there are no black Republicans in the House — and thus, there will be none at the plantation on Friday.

Back in 2009, when Democrats sojourned at the former home of the Burwells and their slaves, their caucus had much the same makeup. For many black Americans, being able to go to a former plantation as a paying guest is something of a psychic triumph. Even better when the guest is the first black president of the United States.

Meanwhile the Republican National Committee, which in December launched an initiative to increase party diversity, (which did include an African-American committeeman from South Carolina and two women — including a Latina — among its six members,) has come under criticism from its former chairman, Michael Steele, who accused the current chairman of all but shutting down efforts he launched to reach out to minorities.

And then there’s the matter of policies like voter ID laws and billboards that cropped up in RNC chairman Reince Priebus’ home state of Wisconsin as well as in Ohio, that seemed aimed at frightening minorities away from the polls. Throw in harsh messaging on immigration, and you begin to see that the party’s problems won’t be solved at a retreat — unless the result of the retreat is a dramatic course correction.

That course correction could still happen — and African-Americans, Latinos and women would surely welcome it.

But for now, optics matter, and they are a combination of place and personnel. It’s not that Republicans can’t hold their retreat anywhere they like — it’s that they shouldn’t be surprised when the picture that’s painted — of a diversity-challenged party choosing that particular location to talk about minority outreach — draws a few jeers.

Follow Joy Reid on Twitter at @thereidreport.