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The fundamental restructuring of both major political parties—which began more than a decade ago when Barack Obama first ran for president—is ramping up during the Trump era. The Republican Party is attracting more working-class, non-college educated whites in the Midwest and Rust Belt; Democrats are picking up more college-educated white women, particularly in the suburbs of major cities.
While the gains of both parties are probably cancelled out by this electoral shift, there is one group that Democrats simply cannot win without: black voters.
Unfortunately for Democrats, Trump continues to court blacks by citing rising economic prospects, record low unemployment among African-Americans, and the need for federal prison reform. Democrats are fearful low voter turnout among blacks on November 6 will dash their hopes of reclaiming control of Congress; Obama campaigned in Wisconsin and Michigan on Friday in an effort to rally black voters in states where must-win Senate seats are at stake.
But the Democrats also may have a more long-term problem with black voters. A small but growing number of young blacks are aligning themselves with the GOP, rejecting their parents’ and grandparents’ hand-me-down political fealty to the Democratic Party.
This past weekend, hundreds of black conservatives ages 15 to 35 gathered in Washington, D.C., for the Young Black Leadership Summit. The three-day event—sponsored by the conservative campus outreach group Turning Point USA—hosted sessions in grassroots political organizing and leadership training. Featured speakers included prominent black leaders such as Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, Heritage Foundation President Kay James, talk show host Larry Elder, and actress Stacey Dash.
On Thursday night, Donald Trump, Jr. spoke to the energized crowd, which greeted the president’s son with chants of “USA! USA!” He took direct aim at how the Democratic Party takes black voters for granted. “You know what the Left is resisting?” he asked. “They are resisting their stranglehold on entire communities. All of the promises the Left has made, all the of the things the Left has said for years and years, what have they done?” The room erupted with cheers. (Junior has some of his father’s authenticity and natural political skills without the alloy of self-puffery. He will be an interesting figure to watch over the next few years.)
President Trump welcomed the activists to the White House on Friday morning; he thanked the crowd for their political courage.
“It’s historic what you’re doing,” the president said. “You are not afraid to stand up for your beliefs. You refuse to be told by the same failed voices how to think or what to believe.”
“The Democrats are very nervous,” he added. “They do nothing for you, and it’s supposed to be automatic [black support for Democrats]. But not anymore.”
The president commended the founder of TPUSA, Charlie Kirk, for his leadership and for hiring a young woman who has emerged as a key figure in the black conservative movement. “Charlie has done a very special job. He found someone who is an incredible person—Candace Owens.”
Owens, 29, is TPUSA’s outspoken communications director; she catapulted to national attention after Kanye West acknowledged her in an April 2018 tweet: “I love the way Candace Owens thinks.”
She now has more than 250,000 subscribers to her YouTube channel and nearly 900,000 Twitter followers. She produced a parody video in June 2017, where she announced to her “parents” (both played by her) that she was a conservative. “But what about Beyoncé? You love Beyoncé!, Beyoncé is a liberal! What’s going on?” her pretend dad asks her.
On Saturday, Owens announced the formation of Blexit, which stands for “black exit” from the Democratic Party. The group calls itself a “frequency for those who have released themselves from the political orthodoxy. It is our formal declaration of independence.” Its website features short videos by black Republican converts and exposes many “inconvenient truths” about the racism behind the Left’s agenda, including abortion.
“For decades, the black community has been in an emotionally abusive relationship with the Democrat Party,” Owens said in a statement about Blexit. “Our fidelity to leftist politicians coupled with our false belief that a larger government might facilitate solutions, has led to the overall collapse of our families, neighborhoods, and incidentally, our futures.”
Kanye West—who caused a firestorm after he visited the White House earlier this month (CNN anchor Don Lemon referred to the event as a “minstrel show”)—has designed a line of t-shirts and hats for the group. (Update: While Owens said Kanye West designed the logo for the new group, he disputed that Tuesday on Twitter, saying that he only “introduced Candace to the person who made the logo” and that she used his name without permission. “I never wanted any association with Blexit. I have nothing to do with it.”)
Some conservatives are wary (and that’s putting it nicely) about Owens’ sincerity and conservative cred; just three years ago, Owens was critical of the Tea Party, supportive of abortion and gay rights and made derogatory comments about Trump prior to the 2016 election. According to these few young, white conservative writers, a political epiphany in your 20s is verboten.
Tiana Lowe, a political commentator and recent USC graduate, authored an August 2018 hit piece on Owens, calling her a “con artist,” a “vindictive right-wing hack,” a Trump family lackey, a “charlatan” and a “grifter.”
Lowe’s nasty rant against the black activist included references to Owens’ political reversals; a casual mention of how Owens dropped out of college; and listed a few of her professional failures.
“She’s a charlatan, not a conservative, and a short-sighted one at that,” Lowe concludes. “Luckily, just as the internet makes it easy for grifters to smooth-talk their way to the top, it’s even easier to figure out their flip-flops and opportunism.”
Lowe was joined last week in the anti-Owens fest by her one-time colleague Alexandra DeSanctis at National Review Online. After Owens tweeted out a misguided comment about the political ideology of the alleged mail “bomber,” DeSanctis—herself a recent graduate of Notre Dame—suggested Owens should be fired by the TPUSA.
“This woman is not a thoughtful commentator, she’s not a conservative, and she continually does immense damage both to the Right and to public discourse more broadly,” DeSanctis tweeted. “Conservatives ought to routinely denounce her, and @TPUSA for employing her, until something changes.” Owens deleted the tweet in question, but that did not satisfy our young self-appointed conservative gatekeeper with no known political experience.
Given her past views, there’s nothing wrong with legitimate skepticism about the sincerity of Owens’ current opinions. But young people do often change their minds when given new information. That is, after all, what all people who think and write about politics (including Lowe and DeSanctis, I presume) are banking on, right?
Knowing that, it seems more likely something else is provoking this level of malice towards Owens as she attracts a new base of support for Republicans and, yes, for “conservatism.” Particularly when the sort of conservative leaders that Lowe and DeSanctis revere have failed where the upstart Owens is succeeding.
There’s also something very familiar about the criticism of Owens by the Guardians of Conservatism—it mimics the same snooty judgments they leveled against Trump: “Not a conservative! Not principled! Long-term damage to our vaunted movement! Crass, money-hungry con artist! (Do you hear that, donors? Don’t send them checks; keep them coming our way!)”
We see how that’s worked out for them.
No doubt Owens and other converts will continue to face the harsh, unyielding judgment of Conservatism, Inc. But like Trump himself, these young black conservatives should journey on unfazed by these tut-tutting keyboard warriors.
“Never quit,” Trump told Owens and the group over the weekend. “Never ever stop fighting.” Let’s hope these young black activists are not deterred by their critics on the Right or on the Left. Let us instead help them to reshape the face of the Republican Party for the future.
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