The GOP’s black ‘mad men’: Why the party can’t find its own Barack Obama

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Rev. E.W. Jackson, who narrowly won the right to run as the Republican Party’s standard-bearer for lieutenant governor in the upcoming Virginia election, is the latest black Republican to distinguish himself more for his outrageous statements than his ability to broaden the party’s base among minority voters. It’s the latest setback for a party that dearly wants to find its own version of Barack Obama.

Jackson, who won on the fourth ballot at the party’s convention, and will run alongside far right Virginia Attorney General Ken Cucinelli, is being compared to Herman Cain, the failed Republican presidential candidate known for his wacky pronouncements about foreign policy (remember “Uzbekibekibekistan?”) and his “9-9-9” economic policy, which he never could actually explain.

In Jackson, who holds very strong anti-gay views, Virginia conservatives found someone who wouldn’t water down his — and their — beliefs. But the national GOP is cringing at the thought of Jackson turning off centrist voters in the increasingly purple state.

Following in the footsteps of other far-right firebrands like former Florida congressman Allen West (who will soon join Fox News as a contributor, and who made a name for himself saying he “can’t stand” president Obama, telling his tea party supporters to “gather their muskets” and march on the tyrannical White House, and calling 87 House Democrats “communists,” while claiming to be the Harriet Tubman who would lead black voters off the “Democratic plantation” — a mission he seems to have failed at, spectacularly…) Jackson is making news for his rhetoric. He has said President Obama harbors “Muslim sensibilities,” whatever that means, and has compared Planned Parenthood to the Ku Klux Klan. He also has said that there is basically no difference between homosexuality and pedophilia, and that gays’ secret agenda is to “sexualize our children at an early age.”

Not exactly fodder for winning over independents.

Broadening the tent, but at what cost?

It’s clear that the GOP, still reeling from Mitt Romney’s totally expected (though not by them) loss to Barack Obama in 2012, would like to broaden its tent. The party has been aggressive about promoting its non-white stars: from embattled South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, both of whom are Indian-American, to their Hispanic stars, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and fiery Texas Senator Ted Cruz. But why does the Republican Party seem to have such a hard time attracting mainstream black candidates?

Recently, the GOP has seized on potential African-American conservative stars like famed Johns Hopkins surgeon Dr. Ben Carson, only to have them go up in a ball of rhetorical flames. For Carson, like Jackson, it was his extreme views of gays, in an age when acceptance of same-sex marriage has reached majority status, that ended his meteoric rise in conservative media circles. Are Cain, and West and Carson and Jackson and … remember Alan Keyes (who tried to take the “birther” cause to the Supreme Court, only to be turned away by none other than Clarence Thomas?) … the best the party of Lincoln can do?

Former RNC chairman Michael Steele, now an MSNBC political analyst, says he doesn’t believe the Republican Party has a “black man” problem.

“There’s a difference between a convention of a few thousand people selecting the nominee for whatever office, and the entire Republican Party selecting a nominee through a primary process,” Steele says, referring to Jackson. “Keep in mind, this gentleman ran statewide for the Senate in 2012 and got less than five percent of the vote in the primary.”

Rhetoric backfires on Republicans

But Republican primaries have also produced less-than-viable Senate candidates, from Richard Mourdock in Indiana, who flamed out over comments about whether pregnancies resulting from rape are “God’s plan,” and Delaware Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell, who had to make a commercial insisting that she’s not a witch. Steele says that too is par for the course.

The small group that nominated Jackson is “a subset of the primary voter,” he says. “As we know, in both parties, Republican and Democrat, the primaries tend to bring out the partisans. So the Democratic primary voter is more left than the party as a whole, and the same is true for the GOP.” Steele insists that the people who chose Jackson are merely “a group of activists who are a subset of that group of primary voters, and probably not reflective of northern Virginia. They’re probably more reflective of the western and southern parts of the state. Their views are very conservative.”

Steele acknowledges that Jackson’s presence on the ticket “presents a challenge” for gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli, who despite his own association with the religious right, is “trying to steer away from the social issues and toward economic issues to win statewide.”

That will be tougher when Cuccinelli stands beside Jackson, although perhaps the fiery black preacher will make the former attorney general look more moderate by comparison.