A group of about 15 minority Republicans met with Sen. Todd Young on Martin Luther King Jr. Day to discuss the future of the GOP and where Black Republicans, who made up most of the group, fit in going forward.
Young, Indiana’s senior senator, said he has made conversations like this a priority, but sitting down for a candid talk with mostly Black Republicans less than two weeks removed from the Capitol riot and two days before the inauguration made this more unique.
One participant described the Republican Party as being in a mid-life crisis, and one of the more prominent themes of the morning was that some of President Donald Trump’s most ardent supporters make it difficult for Black Republicans to know what their role in the party looks like.
The Recorder was invited to sit in on the conversation with the condition that participants could remain anonymous to encourage a frank conversation with the senator.
The conversation was never combative, but some participants took Young to task on issues such as poverty and the diversity of congressional staff.
Young, who said a few times that “markets work,” said poverty in America today is much better than it was 50 years ago. Almost everyone has the bare necessities to sustain themselves, he said, and now the issue has more to do with access to housing, jobs and education.
Young also said upward mobility is a serious issue Americans face. Data from the World Economic Forum, for example, shows the U.S. ranks No. 27 out of 82 countries in upward mobility. The top countries — including Canada and the Nordic countries — get credit for their health care and education systems, along with a strong social safety net.
The future of the Republican Party, Young said in an interview after the conversation, involves making sure people can become active participants in their government.
“Many people feel like they lack the powers and tools to do that right now,” he said, “and our Republican Party needs to be attentive to that.”
What does that mean for Trump’s wing of the party? Republicans are trying to figure that out. One participant said he doesn’t care much about what happens at the national level with Republicans because he lives and pays his taxes in Indiana.
Young called Trump an “anomaly” and “symptom” of, among other things, people feeling disconnected and searching for answers. He said Bernie Sanders was basically the same thing for the left.
He also called the Capitol riots an act of domestic terrorism — multiple steps beyond what most of Young’s Republican colleagues are willing to say — and said the country needs to be more attentive to social and economic inequalities.
At least one participant left the conversation with positive takeaways.
“He gave us a really good framework for understanding the needs of the party and the path forward,” said Tiffanie Ditlevson, who agreed to an interview afterward.
Black conservatives can feel like they’re in no-man’s land, stuck between a Democratic Party that takes the Black vote for granted and a Republican Party that courts open racists and doesn’t take African Americans seriously.
Ditlevson, who’s part of the inaugural Indiana Republican Diversity Leadership Series, pointed out Indiana is a safe Republican state and wondered if GOP leaders feel like they actually have to worry about the party’s diversity. However, it’s clear they do have to, she said, because there are Black conservatives ready to contribute.
Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.