Michelle Obama speaks at the Partnership for a Healthier America’s conference in Washington. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)
Some conservatives are up in arms about former first lady Michelle Obama saying the GOP has a race and gender problem.
At the Pennsylvania Conference for Women Tuesday, Obama said many Americans do not trust the party to represent their interests because they don’t see themselves reflected in its leadership. She described the demographics of lawmakers on both sides of the aisle during the State of the Union speech in the chamber of the United States House of Representatives:
On one side of the room, it’s literally gray and white. Literally, that’s the color palette on one side of the room. On the other side of the room, there are yellows and blues and whites and greens. Physically, there’s a difference in color, in the tone. Because one side: all men, all white. On the other side: some women, some people of color. And whenever I was sitting, I would always have a guest in that booth, and I was always the most embarrassed at the beginning when people would see that, because I’d say that, is it just me, am I looking at how governance works?
The first black first lady, who previously worked as an attorney, said gender and racial diversity are not issues specific to politics.
“I’m sure we can go in any C suite in this country and we’d see the same thing happening,” Obama added.
Former FLOTUS Michelle Obama: The root of all problems are “All white man”. pic.twitter.com/RuhSxHu3Ov
— Wired Sources (@WiredSources) October 4, 2017
Conservative media pounced on Obama’s comments in headlines like these:
Obama’s depiction of the GOP in particular was a bit exaggerated. The GOP is not all men or all white. The Republican Party includes people like Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), Rep. Mia Love (R-Utah), Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao.
While Chao made history during the Reagan administration when she became the first Asian American to be appointed to the Cabinet, President Trump’s initial Cabinet was on track to make history for other reasons related to diversity.
Trump’s Cabinet was criticized for being the first in nearly 30 years to lack a Latino appointee. That changed when the President appointed Alexander Acosta to lead the Labor Department after his original nominee, Andrew Puzder, withdrew before he was confirmed.
Chao’s husband, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), seems to agree with Obama.
Earlier this year, McConnell reportedly asked former Alabama governor Robert Bentley to appoint a woman to the vacant Senate seat of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, citing the party’s diversity problem.
“We are made up of old white men in the Republican Party,” McConnell told Bentley, according to the Montgomery Advertiser. “If you could consider a woman, that would be really good for the party.”
Bentley instead appointed Sen. Luther Strange, who just lost the Republican Primary to former judge Roy Moore, who was criticized in for describing “reds and yellows” on a list of divided groups in America.
If Moore is successful in the December general election, he will join a GOP that has 52 Senate seats, with only three held by people of color and only five held by women.
Following the 2012 presidential election, the Republican National Committee seemed to understand what Obama articulated when Mitt Romney lost to Barack Obama, America’s first black president. The group — then led by Reince Priebus — conducted a post-election autopsy to assess its relationship with women and communities of color.
“We need to campaign among Hispanic, black, Asian, and gay Americans and demonstrate we care about them, too. We must recruit more candidates who come from minority communities,” Republicans wrote in the “Growth and Opportunity Project” report.
It was Republicans’ own assessment in that report of their party’s leadership that was most consistent with Obama’s words:
It is also a fair criticism that Republicans do not do enough to elevate Hispanic leaders within the Party infrastructure. This includes not just candidates running for office, but also senior decision-makers in the RNC’s infrastructure. These personnel should not be pigeonholed into demographic outreach, but should be promoted to positions to develop political strategy and provide input on all budgeting decisions. The RNC must rebuild a nationwide database of Hispanic leaders and donors that can be a resource to the Republican community at large.
The RNC must improve its efforts to include female voters and promote women to leadership ranks within the committee. Additionally, when developing our Party’s message, women need to be part of this process to represent some of the unique concerns that female voters may have. There is growing unrest within the community of Republican women frustrated by the Party’s negative image among women, and the women who participated in our listening sessions contributed many constructive ideas of ways to improve our brand with women throughout the country and grow the ranks of influential female voices in the Republican Party.
Several years after this report the GOP chose Trump as its party’s nominee — a candidate who received more negative attention for his words and statements (and past legal issues) — with women and people of color than any recent GOP nominee.
Minorities’ lack of support for the Republican Party right now starts with its leadership. Fewer than 3 in 10 — 29 percent — women approve of Trump according to the latest weekly Gallup approval ratings. And his approval rating with some groups of color is even lower — 10 percent for black Americans.
The GOP obviously can’t change how it did with women and minority voters in 2016. But there is new data to show that the GOP’s history with winning women and people of color is carrying over into the next generation of voters.
A sizable percentages of millennials of color — members of the largest age group in the country — have unfavorable views of the Republican Party, according to a recent NBC News/GenForward survey. Forty-seven percent of black millennials and 44 percent of Asian American millennials said they have a “very unfavorable” view of the Republican Party. Nearly 4 in 10 — 37 percent — of Latino millennials said the same.
“We have some work to do,” Ronna Romney McDaniel said at Georgetown University last month in a speech about the party’s diversity issues.