Political Consultant Offers Advice for Reaching Black Voters
Republicans have faced their share of challenges to connect with black Americans and persuade them to support GOP candidates. In the 2020 election, for example, black voters overwhelmingly backed Joe Biden over Donald Trump, 92% to 8%.
But all hope isn’t lost. Political consultant Raynard Jackson, who advises Republican candidates, says there are some political leaders who are making positive inroads. He joins “The Daily Signal Podcast” to offer his critique of the Republican Party and share solutions.
Jackson also talks about two important events for black Americans in June—Black Music Appreciation Month and the Juneteenth holiday this coming Sunday. Listen to the show below or read the lightly edited transcript.
Rob Bluey: Raynard, the thing that I appreciate most about you is your transparency and honesty about things that we, as conservatives, can do better when it comes to the black community and ways that may have failed in the past and can do better in the future.
Raynard Jackson: Appreciate it, Rob. I’m a big fan of yours and a loyal supporter of The Heritage Foundation. So thanks for having me.
Bluey: Absolutely. Well, let’s start with a couple of the signature events that are taking place this month in June. And I want to begin with an event that I actually didn’t know about until you brought it to my attention. And I think it’s really important that we begin here, and that is Black Music Appreciation Month, started by a friend of yours, Kenny Gamble, over 40 years ago, is my understanding. He’s somebody who has had an instrumental effect, not only in R&B music, but also you’ve had him perform at the Republican National Convention many years ago.
So tell us about the importance of celebrating black music and why it’s so important for us as conservatives to recognize it, along with other forms of music that we all appreciate in life.
Jackson: Without a doubt, Rob, you and I have talked over the years about Republicans and conservatives having this, in my view, bizarre view that conservatism should be colorblind. So when I walk into a room, they should notice and recognize that I’m black. Well, if [colorblindness is] your position, then I need to take you to an eye doctor and let’s get this problem straight.
And so I’m often asked by a lot of conservatives, “Why do we need Black History Month? Why do we need Black Music Month?” Well, because white folks wouldn’t talk about the contributions blacks made to American history, as well as music. Not black music. Music.
And so out of frustration, we created Black History Month back in the ’30s or ’40s. And Kenny Gamble, the prolific songwriter [and] producer—Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, Grammy Award-winning, Songwriters Hall of Fame—he, back in 1979, he created Black Music Month. And every president since Jimmy Carter in 1979, and even [Donald] Trump—for those out there that think Trump is this big boogieman, he even acknowledged it four years in a row.
And so it’s important not only because … When you look at it, the American culture is the most influential culture in the world. That’s why, you go on YouTube, you see every country emulating America’s culture. And most of that is driven today by hip-hop, which is an extension of R&B and black music. So we can use that for good or bad as far as images we put out there. And so that’s the rationale behind Kenny Gamble setting up Black History Month.
And I must say, you at Heritage are always, in my view, cutting-edge and leading the charge on diversity. And your organization, The Heritage Foundation, is the only major conservative organization that’s even paying homage to Black Music Month.
Also, I don’t know if you realize this, back even during the slave days, a lot of the old gospel hymns, do you realize those were coded messages to the other slaves and they used it through music because they knew the master didn’t understand anything they were saying? So they used gospel music to communicate to other slaves about what they were doing. The Underground Railroad always predicated on music.
Bluey: Fascinating. I did not know that aspect of it.
You wrote a recent column, which I would suspect is controversial in some quarters for War Room. And one of the things that you say in this column is that, “Republicans and conservatives have no problem recognizing other types of music, whether it be country music, but they have a hard time recognizing this.” Why do you think that is, Raynard?
Jackson: The simple short answer is conservatives have very little contact with credible black folks. They will go around and grab black folks that sing the songs they want them to sing. But as I’ve written, and you and I’ve talked about for years, conservatives need to have blacks around them who will tell them what they need to hear, not what they want to hear.
And this stems from, as I said earlier in this podcast, this foolish notion that conservatism should be colorblind.
I think you should recognize that I’m black when I walk in the room, just like I think you should recognize a female, that she’s a woman when she walks in the room. And that’s healthy there.
But I’m amazed a lot of articles I write and even here for The Daily Signal under your supervision, a lot of my columns are deemed controversial because I come from a communications background. And I’m just dumbfounded by the tone-deafness of conservatism. And they don’t know how to effectively communicate with blacks because, No. 1, it has a racial component to it.
And to give you a classic example, and I’ve shared this with you many times, when you go into the black community, when you start talking with the word “conservatism,” you lose a lot of blacks. But when you talk to them about traditional values, which is our term for conservatism—same meaning but different words—that’s called understanding your audience. It’s not identity politics.
And I get furious when I hear conservatives talk about, “We don’t support identity politics.” Well, let me tell you what identity politics are in a way that your audience can understand.
When McDonald’s hamburgers is trying to sell [through] advertisement to the black community, they use hip-hop music. They don’t use country music. They don’t use opera. That’s called market segmentation, identity merchandising.
And so it is within the political realm, if you’re trying to speak directly to the black community, there are certain words you need to use that resonate with them, no more so than when you’re speaking to women or the Hispanic community, there are certain words that resonate with them more than other groups. That’s smart business there. It’s not us segregating people by race. It’s called smart marketing.
Bluey: Raynard, I want to come back to this in a little bit more detail, but before we shift too far away from music, you told me a fascinating story about Kenny Gamble. Can you share that with our listeners so they then know a little bit more about him and his philanthropy and the way he’s trying to help his community?
Jackson: Yeah. Kenny’s just a great, great guy and I hope to have him on one of your podcasts here in the future, because Kenny’s a good guy and he’s very conservative and very involved in the community.
So back in the day, back in the ’80s and ’90s, he lived out in the suburbs with people like Patti LaBelle, the famous singer; Dr. J from NBA. And he just had this epiphany because he was born and raised in Philadelphia. So he sold his home out there in the suburbs, bought a hundred city blocks behind City Hall in Philadelphia. At that time, this is the early ’90s, drug dealers, prostitution, gang violence, and boarded-up buildings. It was like Watts on steroids back in the day.
And so he used his own money, bought all this property, rehabbed the property. He set up a construction company called Universal Construction and he didn’t kick the poor folks out of the neighborhood. What he said, “I’m going to train you in construction. I’m going to give you a job. I’m going to let you buy these houses and I want you to own them.” He didn’t rent them. He let the people own them.
Then he set up a Universal Charter School from K through 12 so that the people could stay in their local community, fix it up, and then their kids could be educated all in the same community.
And so I was able to get Kenny a speaking role in the 2000 convention there in Philadelphia. Then in 2012, I was able to get Mitt Romney as our nominee for president to actually take a walking tour of Kenny’s development and meet with the kids, meet with the residents, and it was all over the news.
But to my frustration, no one in the conservative movement has really cultivated a relationship with him on an ongoing basis.
He took private money, and as opposed to complaining about white folks and racism, he’s built this. He created jobs for the local residents. He created an educational system. A lot of his kids now going off to college and graduated college and are productive members of our society. That’s conservatism if I ever saw it.
Bluey: You were talking in your previous answer about some of the challenges that we, as conservatives, sometimes encounter, but you have worked with a number of Republicans and conservatives who have done things well, and I want to give you an opportunity to share some of those examples. The one that comes to mind, for me, is the work you did with Gov. Ron DeSantis in Florida, but I’m sure he’s not alone. Who are some of the people who actually get it and are doing things well?
Jackson: To this day, I think Ron DeSantis was one of the best candidates and clients and campaigns I’ve ever worked on. He gave me just carte blanche, “Hey, go out there and do what you do and just tell me when and where you need me to show up.” And it was beautiful.
Another guy that understands this, I think your audience may be surprised at who I’m about to name, Brian Kemp, the Gov. of Georgia. He gets it, he gets it. I talk with him, heck, two or three times a week, and sometimes about the campaign, other times just about life. But he reads all of my columns and he’ll tell me when he disagrees. But he says, “You’re right on point.” And he’s actually practicing what he preaches.
Another good guy that’s in the neighborhood of really getting it is Eric Greitens in Missouri, in my hometown St. Louis, but he’s running for the U.S. Senate there in Missouri. He gets it.
And what I find interesting is, isn’t it amazing that all the people I just talked about, all of them have a military background? So they are very comfortable around blacks and other minorities because as soon as you put that uniform on, you become green and they bunk with each other and shower and, more importantly, they go on the front lines together and they don’t care what your color is.
And so those are a couple of guys that I think really get it. And, of course, you get it, too, Rob. I’m not going to leave you out. You and The Heritage Foundation have been really aggressive on this in this area and I hope you-all continue to do so.
Bluey: Well, thank you. Take us back to Gov. DeSantis’ election campaign and how in particular he was able to connect with some of the black voters in that state, I believe, on the issue of education. This was years before Glenn Youngkin and other candidates really seized on the concern that parents had. I mean, DeSantis, in other words, was really ahead of the curve.
Jackson: Oh, big time. What’s interesting, there are two issues. I think we got about 17% of the black vote and DeSantis won by less than a 10th of a point. I mean, very, very close race. And that black vote was the margin of victory there. And we—
Bluey: We should note that he was running against a black Democrat.
Jackson: Right. Andrew Gillum. … I’m going to tell you something: Andrew Gillum in 2018 and Stacey Abrams running for governor in Georgia in 2018, those were two of the best candidates I’ve ever seen in my life. Now, forget about their politics and their platform, but just as a candidate, put my analyst hat on, they were remarkable candidates—wrong on the issues by a long shot.
But what gravitated the black community toward DeSantis in 2018 were two issues, were black males, Second Amendment. That was a real, real attractive feature, because a lot of blacks, despite what liberals think, own guns legally. I’m not talking about Chicago gang bangers. I’m talking about American citizens. They own guns.
And the second thing with black males was the issue of entrepreneurship because Gillum said during the campaign, Ron DeSantis’ opponent on the Democratic side, he said, “If you vote for me, I’m raising your taxes on small business.” And when I told DeSantis, he was, “OK, well, let’s go head-to-head and deal with that issue.”
And he ran on a platform that would be business-friendly to smaller minority businesses. He committed to making sure smaller minority firms had access to capital, which is a major issue. And when you look at his Cabinet, it reflected America. And, matter of fact, just released this morning, DeSantis has nominated a black conservative to the state Supreme Court and she’ll win confirmation going away.
And then with female voters in Florida in ’18, the issue of school choice vouchers education was the driving force behind black women. And DeSantis was even surprised at how that moved the black vote among females.
And so, why is it that the national conservative movement [doesn’t] adopt those? Because those are issues Youngkin tapped into it.
Bluey: Yeah, he certainly did. And no doubt about it, I think he still is. He still recognizes the importance of that.
Let me read an excerpt from your most recent column. You say, “I want to issue a challenge to the conservative movement. I would love to see conservatives in leadership positions offer the black community convincing arguments as to why they should join the Republican Party or the conservative movement, but they are not allowed to mention Lincoln, Martin Luther King, or civil rights. I don’t think conservatives are capable of doing this. Please prove me wrong.”
Why the pessimism there, Raynard?
Jackson: Because I am so tired of conservatives always talking about the past. Anybody that follows politics knows the role of the Republican Party historically, but it’s like my good friend Janet Jackson once said to me, “What have you done for me lately?” And if we have to continue, to go back 200, 300 years to justify blacks being involved in the party, then we’re doing something wrong.
And it’s amazing, one of the responses—I got an email from someone I don’t know about my column that you referred to, and they were making the argument that the conservative movement should not go and target the black community. If we, as blacks, want to join the conservative movement or the Republican Party, there’s nothing stopping them. Yeah?
But just can you imagine if McDonald hamburgers had the same approach? “Well, we’ve got a Big Mac here. We’re not going to try to persuade you that ours is better than the Whopper. So if you want to come to McDonald’s, just come.” They would’ve been out of business decades ago.
… If you really believe in conservatism, it’s incumbent upon us to go into the highways and the byways and to compel them to come to us. If you believe in the conservative message, why would you want to keep it to yourself? I got the cure for cancer, but I’m not going to go out to cancer victims and help them heal themselves. I’m going to keep it to myself, saying, “If you’ve got cancer, I’ve got the solution, but it’s up to you to figure out that I’ve got the solution.” That doesn’t make much sense to me.
So I’m challenging conservatives to stop talking about the past. How can conservative principles help me with this inflation we’re going through now? How can a conservative message help me with this gun violence and gang violence all over the country? How can a conservative message create a better economic environment for me to have a job or me to create a job? So stop telling me about our past and tell me what you can do in my present so I can have a future.
Bluey: That makes sense. So I asked you why you were pessimistic about where we are today but, at the same time, you are somebody that I’ve known for many years. You’ve done things here in Washington, D.C., and all across this country to try to get conservatives to understand the points you were just making. What motivates you? What’s your passion? Why do you keep coming up every day to try to make a difference, Raynard?
Jackson: Insanity? Because I could be very candid with you and your audience. If I had an ounce of a brain, which is an insult to those with an ounce of a brain, I would’ve left this party and movement decades ago, but I don’t know what the definition of no is, like Democrats don’t know what the definition of a woman is.
But I’m telling you, the easiest thing for me to do right now would be to drop out of the game. But the sign of a true leader is someone who says, “I am not going to give up on the party that I joined decades ago and I’m not going to back out of the game. I’m going to force change from within and until I see that change—” and so on.
I define success when I see a black conservative being asked before a conservative Congress to testify on military affairs. I define success when I see a black woman talking about entrepreneurship. Not how she used to be on welfare, not how many abortions she’s had, not how she used to be strung out on drugs.
Where are conservatives’ ability to highlight what I call the Cosby effect? When have you ever seen conservatives highlight a black nuclear family whose daughter is not producing babies out of wedlock as a teenager, whose son is not strung out on drugs, who the kids don’t sass their parents? Where are these images of black?
There are more of them than these, what I call the ghettoization of black voters by a conservative. Stop showing me people who are strung out and on welfare. Show me positive images. And conservatives refuse to do it.
It’s almost like what I call the Tarzan effect. I do a lot of work in Africa. Let me tell you, Tarzan wouldn’t last one minute in the real Africa, in the bush. No, he wouldn’t last one minute. But it’s almost like the crazy white man, Tarzan back in the day, and all the movies they did back in the ’50s and ’60s, Tarzan had to come into Africa and save the cannibals and barbarians from themselves and it’s the “Great White Hope” phenomenon.
So Conservatives have done the same thing up to this present day in 2022. When are we going to understand what the eyes see and the ears hear the mind believes?
So if you keep showing me a black dysfunctional family and saying, “We white conservatives are going to go into the black community and save them from themselves,” guess what? You’re going to continue to get black folks like me offended and we’re not going to be involved.
But show me, with your speeches, you communicating with black families across the board. Let me hear you saying something positive about the black community and how you want them to join the fight. But don’t come into our community preaching down to us, lecturing us on what we need to do. We know what we need to do. Tell me how your policy’s going to tie into that and then I can get my mind around, I’m welcome in the conservative movement.
Bluey: Thank you for sharing that.
Raynard, I opened this conversation by saying I wanted to talk about a couple of notable things that were happening in June. The other coming up soon is Juneteenth. It falls on a Sunday this year. It is the second time, I believe, that it’ll be recognized as a federal holiday. So what does Juneteenth mean?
Jackson: Well, the short version of Juneteenth, remember Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, I think, in 1865. I think that was before you were born. And, basically, when he signed it, it took almost a year before the message had trickled down to the South in Texas, Mississippi, Georgia, that Blacks were indeed freed at that point. So it was a lag time.
So Juneteenth, when the blacks finally found out in Texas and other Southern states that they were freed, they created this big old celebration. So that’s, in essence, what Juneteenth is.
Now, what’s fascinating this year, Juneteenth falls on the same Sunday that Father’s Day is. So how cool would it be if major conservative organizations and conservative leaders were to, across the country, give a series of speeches, what I would entitle “A Conservative Vision for Civil Rights in the 21st Century”? And talk about the value and the role of the family, especially in the black community.
We are so busy redefining what the family is. When I say “family,” mom, dad, and kids, but Susie doesn’t have two mommies and Johnny doesn’t have two daddies and let’s get that straight.
And so can you imagine if conservatives were to tie in the Juneteenth celebration of liberation with a celebration of fatherhood and how we can have conservative policies that will reconstitute the nuclear family in the black community, but in America overall?
The lack of fathers in the home is an American problem. It’s not unique to the black community. It’s more pronounced in the black community, but it’s not unique to the black community.
Bluey: We’ve spent a lot of time talking about gun violence in this country, and absent from almost every media report is any discussion of the fatherlessness crisis that you have. Or when any conservative brings it up, it seems that it’s immediately rejected. So I hope conservatives do take your advice on this. And I think it is well worth the conversation and the fact that those two dates align this year gives us an opportunity to do just that.
Raynard, all of your work can be found at raynardjackson.com. Tell our listeners what they can find when they go to your website and maybe some other things that you have in the works?
Jackson: Right. Yeah. … Or just google my name or go on my Facebook, Twitter, … Raynard Jackson, all my columns show up there. And a lot of time when you google my name, the column will just pop up automatically.
But one of the other things we’re working on is to bring together—because before the virus, I had the largest gathering of conservative minority entrepreneurs in the country. And I want to, hopefully, bring that back maybe in September.
But also there are 253 minorities running for Congress right now, and we’re going to have several new black congressmen come November on our side. And so I want to bring all these candidates up here at the same time in September and bring conservative leaders together to, again, show positive interaction with these, not only candidates, with these entrepreneurs, as well.
Bluey: We always appreciate your wise words and advice. And I think we can all strive to certainly do better. And appreciate you holding us accountable.
Jackson: Appreciate it, Rob. Always glad to be with you. And any time you need me, you know I’m in your corner.
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