Can Raffi Williams win the minority vote for Republicans?
Raffi Williams has a tough job ahead of him. He’s just been named deputy press secretary at the Republican National Committee, tasked with taking the party’s message to young and African-American voters and black media. His appointment is in line with the GOP effort to attract rather than alienate minorities and improve its showing in future elections.
It’s all part of the plan outlined in an “autopsy” of the party’s weaknesses, presented recently by RNC chair Reince Priebus.
It won’t be easy, but then, Williams is more prepared than most 24-year-olds for the challenges of Beltway-based politics. He grew up debating issues with his father, Fox News analyst Juan Williams, over dinner.
Williams on the challenges Republicans face
“He always taught me to think things through, to be my own person,” Williams said of his father during a recent phone conversation. “He supported me in my decision; he encouraged me to figure out what I want, what I believe.”
Williams, who attended the liberal arts Haverford College in Pennsylvania (“everyone’s always surprised that a conservative graduated from there”), worked for Rep. Dan Benishek’s (R-Mich.) successful reelection campaign last year, fending off opposition from the League of Conservation Voters. He is confident about his new job, though realistic about the challenges the party faces.
“I think it’s a great opportunity, and it’s something that’s really exciting to me.” Williams said. “The RNC is really trying to do great things and reach new communities, and I want to be on the ground level of that.”
“The challenge is, in the recent past the Republican Party hasn’t done a great job of reaching out to minority communities,” he said. “We’re going to have to start rebuilding that, and start really engaging with these communities. … We haven’t really done much more than lip service.”
“We have to talk to them and make this pitch, not just once, not just twice but constantly,” he said. “The real key here is showing them how the Democratic Party has failed their communities. You see skyrocketing unemployment rates, especially among blacks — young black men especially — and you see no solutions.”
“If you just hear pitch one, and the guy disappears the next day, you think he’s a con man. You don’t think he’s really invested in you.”
Republicans are often their own worst enemy
Williams admitted that a barrier to reaching minority communities has often been Republicans themselves, such as Mitt Romney’s comment that the votes of minorities were bought with “gifts” from minorities. (Romney was implying Obama’s supporters simply rewarded the president for health care reform and other programs that benefited them.)
“There’s no place for negative attacks in this dialogue,” Williams said. “We need to stay focused on the policies and solutions that will help all Americans and African-Americans.” He said being present and engaging communities in events such as Priebus’s recent “listening tour” in Brooklyn, N.Y., show that “one negative comment doesn’t talk for the whole party.”
Williams said his job is also about building a strong group of surrogates who can effectively talk about problems that disproportionately affect black communities, from chronic crime to high unemployment, and how Republicans have solutions that will work.
“There are conservative blacks across this country,” he said, people that those communities “know and trust and have seen.”