With one notable exception, Republican leaders are failing to recognize that Kanye West’s pro-Trump, anti-Democrat “rant” on "Saturday Night Live" in the early hours of Sept. 30 was the sound of opportunity loudly knocking — rapping, you might say, if you weren’t afraid of bad puns.
There was nearly ubiquitous snickering that he must be off his meds. West, who has referred to himself as bipolar, said as much himself. And indeed, his meandering lecture was strange. But his comments about the press and the arts being overwhelmingly liberal — and therefore indoctrinating people with a viewpoint “so, so, one-sided” — and Democratic welfare policies destroying black families by taking “the fathers out the homes” would be seconded by any conservative.
[WATCH: Kanye West goes on rant during White House meeting with Trump]
Be honest. If West had instead taken over the stage to praise Barack Obama, whatever the level of coherence, nobody would be talking about him being batty. He’d just be given artistic license for his weirdness, since great artists can be odd ducks.
Republicans, who are mainly white and seem to mostly regard black neighborhoods as places to drive through with the doors locked on the way out of town, were by and large probably as aghast at West as anyone, assuming they knew who he was. Little wonder that it took President Trump (also routinely derided as off his meds, or at least desperately in need of some) to have the originality to recognize the value of what had happened and invite West to that building mocked in recent bestsellers as its own kind of psych ward — the White House. Trump and West met there Thursday.
Kanye’s journey to the GOP is frighteningly lonely, given the worlds he comes from — black America and the arts community. Most Republicans, habituated to ceding the black vote and black problems to the Democrats, don’t seem to care that West is reaching out. Trump, derided as racist, rarely fails to mention the declining black unemployment rate, meets with black leaders to talk about prison reform and other issues, and cares — maybe personally, maybe politically, or maybe both — about West’s message that it’s time for blacks to return to the Republican Party. “Actually, blacks weren’t always Democrats,” he noted on "SNL."
[Related: CNN panel bashes Kanye West's representation of black community due to Trump support]
There is plenty of room for Republicans to make gains among black voters, if only they would try. Polls suggest growing black support for Trump, who received only 8 percent of the African American vote in 2016. A Rasmussen survey in August put Trump’s support at 36 percent, and though that might seem high, it’s still 17 points above the 19 percent tallied by the same pollster the year before. Other polls show support at around 12 percent.
In several swing states with average-to-high percentages of black voters, including Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, even small defections of black voters from the Democrats would help solidify Trump’s 2016 advantage and perhaps even allow him to threaten in Virginia, where he lost to Hillary Clinton by just 5.4 points.
An Associated Press poll taken earlier this year contained a startling statistic. Just 1 percent of African Americans described themselves as Republicans. But 27 percent identified as “conservative,” compared to 26 percent who said they were “liberal.” The Republican Party is doing something wrong.
There is a growing roster of appealing conservative African Americans whose profiles have exploded in recent years, including commentator Candace Owens, social media stars Diamond and Silk, Rep. Mia Love, R-Utah, Jason Riley of the Wall Street Journal, actress and politician Stacey Dash, and gun rights activist Antonia Okafor. They can help Republicans deliver the message to the black community. Conservatism can create jobs, recreate the decimated black family, and perhaps start putting an end to the inner-city slaughter of young blacks.
In theory, Republicans want to deploy conservative economics and values to emancipate African Americans from poverty. In practice, when was the last time you saw a conservative make a speech in a black community? Democrats may have the wrong solutions, but at least they’re in the neighborhoods.
Owens has compared the Democrats’ stewardship of slavery and Jim Crow to the slavery of their new “plantation,” aka welfare.
“The Left has declared war on our American values, and Kanye is fighting the cultural front,” she said on Fox News after West’s "SNL" appearance. “So what Kanye is doing is unbelievably brave. To stand up to the mob, to put on a MAGA hat and say I support this president.”
She is unbelievably brave too. The question is, do Republicans have the courage to seize the moment Kanye West has made for them and invite African Americans back to the GOP?
Keith Koffler (@keithkoffler) is a contributor to the Washington Examiner's Beltway Confidential blog. He is a veteran White House reporter and the editor of White House Dossier.