Esther Cepeda / Politics

Tips for GOP Outreach

CHICAGO -- Of all the morning-after fretting about the future of the Republican Party's relevance in a majority-minority country, GOP strategist Chuck Warren's comment was my favorite: "To be frank, we're a 'Mad Men' party in a 'Modern Family' world."

That's a clever way to describe what many in the Republican Party have been saying for a long time -- that there's no way for the GOP to swim against the current demographic tide. 

A similar day-after treat was Newt Gingrich preaching what's been apparent to everyone, it seems, except party elders. He told The Wall Street Journal that the GOP had to figure out how to connect with minority voters and "simply has to learn" to appear more inclusive to minorities, and Hispanics in particular. 

Amen, Newt -- but with a caveat. "Appear" more inclusive? No, that's nowhere near good enough. The Republican Party has to actually be more inclusive, and it can't make the mistake of courting Hispanics at the expense of other minority populations. 

Easier said than done, sure. But though the task isn't easy, it is pretty simple. The Republicans need only stick to a simple trifecta of inclusiveness -- just remember what all constituents desire from their leaders: To be "connected, respected and reflected."

I heard this little nugget of wisdom at a round-table discussion I participated in last month, "The Power of the Multicultural Consumer," about new Nielsen consumer research on Asian-Americans, Hispanics and African-Americans. It was dropped in passing by Cheryl Pearson-McNeil, Nielsen's senior vice president of public affairs and government relations, who was kind enough to tell me more about her secret recipe in the wake of the Republicans' new goal of minority outreach.

"Being 'connected' to people of other backgrounds means you can't just talk at people, you have to get them to feel something that makes them think that you understand their culture," Pearson-McNeil said.  

One good way to start is to dig deep into the mountains of data on the three largest minority groups and learn what they're really about, as opposed to what you've always assumed you knew about them. 

For instance, African-Americans, the voting group with the longest history in America, is a deeply misunderstood, socioeconomically diverse electorate that, it seems, the Republican Party has ignored since Barack Obama was elected president.

Has there ever been a better time than now to try to capitalize on the disillusionment and doubt so many African-Americans felt as they re-elected a president who has been widely criticized for not embracing their issues in order to avoid showing favoritism?

"'Respected' means you have to value and respect me full-time, not just during Black History Month or Asian-American Month," Pearson-McNeil said. 

I've complained plenty about selective "heritage month" attention, but Asian-Americans are an example of a minority group that is overlooked altogether. In all the hubbub about the Latino vote -- and as the black vote was being taken for granted -- the fastest-growing racial group in the country was again left out of the conversation. 

On Election Day, the National Coalition for Asian Pacific American Community Development sent out a news release reiterating the quadrennial fact that the majority of Asian-Americans were not asked by any campaign, political party or community organization to vote or to register to vote. Talk about a missed opportunity with a population that boasts the highest average sales and hiring among all immigrant-owned businesses.

Finally, "'Reflected' means that I can see myself, my culture, my lifestyle in whatever you're doing," said Pearson-McNeil. In truth, the Republicans actually did a pretty good job of this in one case with the number of diverse national political leaders -- Hispanic, Indian-American and black -- who spoke at the national convention in Tampa.

But obviously this is not enough. The GOP's young leaders have to school their party elders on the prerequisite mind-shifts for connecting, reflecting and respecting: Hispanics are not all immigrants and not all immigrants live here illegally, Muslim-Americans cannot be routinely smeared with the term "terrorist" and no politician needs to learn a foreign language to reach out -- our common language is English. See? Not easy, but simple.

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Esther Cepeda's email address is estherjcepeda@washpost.com.

Copyright 2012 Washington Post Writers Group



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