Today's appointment to the U.S. Senate of Congressman Tim Scott of South Carolina raises the hopes of a Republican Party still wallowing in the recent election returns. Gov. Niki Haley made a choice that gives the GOP its first black Republican senator since the late Ed Brooke of Massachusetts--and someone likely to hold the seat in the 2014 election. Scott, a conservative, is also the first black Republican senator from the South since Reconstruction and the only African-American in the current Senate.
This opens new possibilities for the Republicans as they rebuild from the 2012 defeat. At the moment, Republicans nationally are lucky to get seven percent of the black vote. Oddly, they got 20 percent of the young black male vote this past November. That is still a pathetic percentage, but it offers a glimmering hope that a GOP appeal based on jobs and opportunity might resonate with young minorities in the future.
Meanwhile, before we move on, the past is worth recalling. As late as the 60s Republicans got a strong minority of black support--upwards of 40 percent in races in the North and nationally. But the so-called Southern Strategy of the Goldwater era tended to blot out notice among black voters that the Republicans were still giving stronger support to civil rights legislation in Congress than were Democrats. Probably more important, Republicans simply failed to organize much at all in the black community, while the Democrats used patronage and government programs to elicit stronger and stronger black voter majorities for their party.
It wasn't, as their Democratic rivals said, that Republicans were averse to black participation in the party. If anything, Republicans will go to great lengths to encourage black Republicans. Indeed, they suspect that Democrats, conversely, will do all they can to stigmatize any black Republican who gets into an elected or appointed position. In many communities, a politically ambitious black who is a Republican faces discrimination--from the black establishment.
That's why the Scott appointment is so important. There's little the Democrats can do to damage a black Senator from South Carolina. That state has come a long way since it fielded Strom Thurmond as a segregationist Dixiecrat presidential candidate in 1948. In fact, eventually Thurmond came a long way himself in the Senate as a Republican, and among other redemptive acts, served as a mentor to young blacks.
Citizens of all backgrounds and politics will welcome this latest development.