Allen West might have been kicked out of Congress in 2012, but he’s still treated like a rising rock star at CPAC. While his fellow black Tea Party congressman, Tim Scott, is now a senator from South Carolina, West is now a host on PJTV’s online channel and is raising money for his Guardian Fund to support veterans and minority conservatives running for office.
West was controversial in Congress, with a propensity toward accusing Democrats of being communists. But he saved his friendly fire this CPAC for Republicans’ failure to reach out to minorities, with special blame set aside for Mitt Romney.
“Governor Romney missed that opportunity [to reach out]. I was on his African-American leadership council and never got a phone call from him,” West told me, walking down the hallway at Maryland’s Gaylord hotel. “Never got a phone call.”
Romney’s campaign announced his Black Leadership Council to some fanfare during the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina. West served as co-chairman along with Tim Scott and Florida Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll, who resigned her position abruptly this week amid an investigation into a $300 million charity fraud.
At the time, Romney announced his Black Leadership Council in a statement—rather than in person—saying, “I am proud to have the endorsements of so many leaders in the black community. They know all too well that the economic downturn that has continued to hammer our country has been even more devastating for black Americans. Together, we will work to end that downturn, and we will not rest until all Americans have the jobs they need, the quality education they are owed, and the opportunities they deserve.”
Pretty words, but West says the leadership council never met with Romney or anyone on his senior campaign staff. “No. Never did,” said West. “We had a good foundation of people that could have helped out, but, you know, once again, that’s ‘outreach.’ Doesn’t mean anything unless you actually show up.” And Romney never did. This side of Jack Kemp, conservatives seem allergic to campaigning in urban America or communities of color.
West says the GOP needs to “turn the words into deeds and, and go into the community to talk ... about education reform in schools, talk about small-business ownership in the Hispanic community. When you look at these minority communities they are conservative at heart”—which he defined as being centered on “family, God, individual responsibility, education. And with a lot of Hispanics and African-Americans in the military, national security. Just take the message to ’em ... Democrats do it well, but it’s full of bull. But we don’t do it at all, so they go for the bull.”
I asked West who in the GOP he thought did the outreach well, and no names immediately came to mind. What about his home state of Florida’s former governor Jeb Bush?
“Yeah, but what is reaching out?” he rhetorically replied. “It’s not just because you have an Hispanic wife or you can speak a little Spanish, you know. What are you doing to go in and not just show up at a Hispanic-American breakfast at the chamber of commerce or what have you. Not just showing up in Black History Month. When are you really going in and talking about the issues? My parents were raised as Democrats,” West continued. “My parents raised me with very conservative principles and values, and I tell you, when you talk to the black community really about who they are on a Sunday, they’re the most conservative people in the United States of America. Now you got to get that message home Monday through Saturday.”
Despite the diss to the first family of the modern Republican Party and the most recent nominee, West’s moment of clarity delivered some tough medicine on the run, which the attendees of this CPAC might have both applauded and learned from—a rare combination.