Jeff Flake is the latest Republican to acknowledge the GOP’s race and gender problem

  • Eugene Scott
  • The Washington Post
Dec 27, 2017
Olivier Douliery/TNS
Republican Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona said President Trump will face a primary challenge or an independent opponent in 2020 if he continues his ways.

Sen. Jeff Flake, R.-Ariz., on Sunday repeated a frequent criticism of his party that could be a bigger challenge for them in the 2018 elections than President Donald Trump's unpopularity - a lack of diversity. 

The conservative lawmaker said on ABC's "This Week": 

"When you look at some of the audiences cheering for Republicans, sometimes, you look out there and you say, 'those are the spasms of a dying party.' 

"When you look at the lack of diversity, sometimes, and it depends on where you are, obviously, but by and large, we're appealing to older white men and there are just a limited number of them, and anger and resentment are not a governing philosophy," he continued." 

This is a familiar critique of the GOP that even conservative lawmakers have become increasingly vocal and concerned about. In recent large-scale elections, most people of color have voted Democrat and most Republicans are white, according to the Pew Research Center. And most women have voted for the Democratic candidate while the Republican often wins the male vote. 

Just before the election for the Alabama Senate seat — which featured the Trump-backed Roy Moore, a conservative evangelical known in part for his controversial comments about people of color, Muslims and gay people, Republican National Committee Chair Ronna Romney McDaniel presented a two-page memo to White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly detailing the GOP's challenges with women voters, according to Politico. 

The article said: 

"The warning, several people close to the chairwoman said, reflected deepening anxiety that a full-throated Trump endorsement of accused child molester Roy Moore in the special election — which the president was edging closer to at the time — would further damage the party's standing with women. McDaniel's memo, which detailed the president's poor approval numbers among women nationally and in several states, would go unheeded, as Trump eventually went all-in for the ultimately unsuccessful Republican candidate." 

Moore hoped to occupy the seat previously held by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a longtime Republican who is regularly criticized by the left for having a low view of diversity in his oversight of the Justice Department. 

On Sessions, Rep. Maxine Waters, D.-Calif., previously told The Washington Post's Jonathan Capehart: 

"I think he's a racist, I think he's a throwback and I don't mind saying it, any day of the week. ... I think that Jeff Sessions is very dangerous ... and I think that he absolutely believes that it's his job to keep minorities in their place." 

Perhaps aware of this perception, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., asked former Alabama governor Robert Bentley — who resigned amid allegations of inappropriate behavior with a female staffer — to appoint a woman to the vacant Sessions' seat. 

"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." 

The latter part of Trump's first year in office has been dominated by conversations about women in power, politics in positions of influence. 

Most women in Alabama voted against Moore, according to Post exit polls. Many of them were mothers disgusted by the allegations he faced and the way his campaign responded to the women accusing him of assault. And others viewed him as a localized version of a president who is facing more than a dozen sexual-harassment allegations himself. 

And some of Trump's lowest approval ratings come from people of color, according to Gallup polls. 

As the #MeToo conversation continues on Capitol Hill and the country approaches the first anniversary of the Women's March on Washington, conservatives have found themselves in a party led by a president consumed with maintaining the support of his base. But a core strategy of many veteran politicians is not just keeping one's base but expanding it. The hope is usually that people who were not originally on board will come to embrace said lawmaker's vision of America. 

With Trump experiencing record low approval ratings compared to previous presidents, Flake, McConnell and the RNC seem aware that the nationalism preached by former White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon may be sufficient to keep some passengers of the Trump train aboard. But if Republicans are going to be in the business of making America great for all citizens, these individuals have concluded that something has to change — and those shifts probably need to start at the top.