The candidacy of Daniel Cameron, former adjutant to Mitch McConnell who is the GOP candidate for Attorney General of Kentucky, has become a national story. President Trump tweeted rave support from Cameron last month. The timing of Trump’s support for Cameron, who is black, was likely related to the fact that the president was criticized at the time for making comments that many considered racist towards the city of Baltimore and that region’s Congressman Elijah Cummings. felt.
Cameron proudly accepted the confirmation. As a result, a black liberal lawyer in Louisville attacked Cameron with a derogatory label that will not be repeated here, suggesting that the candidate “slapped all black ancestors in the face.” In response, Cameron said on Fox News that he was a “proud Republican” and that “the Democratic Party must stop telling black Americans how to think”.
I don’t think Cameron’s candidacy is some kind of referendum on black Republicans, or how the Democratic Party should treat it. His candidacy and debate, however, reveal some important political, racial and Republican party dynamics in Kentucky
1. Cameron’s candidacy is an important positive achievement for both the candidate and the Republican Party
I wrote a piece last year that explained the divide between the partisans on Capitol Hill – there are significantly more women in Democratic Congress than women in Republican in Congress. Part of this inequality can be explained by the movements of the two parties: the Democrats have made a deliberate effort to help female candidates raise money and survive the primaries, while the GOP has taken a more straightforward approach. Republicans also have few black or Latin American members on Capitol Hill, and I suspect this is partly due to the party not deliberately trying to increase its racial diversity. (I’ll get to the Trump factor later.)
But the Republican Party, especially Mitch McConnell, paved the way for Cameron’s candidacy. As a student at UofL, Cameron participated in the McConnell Scholars Program, a Senator-launched initiative to get Kentuckians into politics. After graduating from law school, Cameron worked as a lawyer in McConnell’s office. During this year’s GOP attorney general, Cameron was supported by influential conservative groups and activists allied with McConnell and helped defeat Cameron, Senator Wil Schroder, R-Campbell. Cameron now stands a very big chance of being the first black person in Kentucky history to ever be single nationwide (as opposed to walking on a ticket with someone).
McConnell’s role is not to take anything from Cameron himself. Whatever you think of McConnell’s political views or ideology, he is a man who works to win elections and gain power. McConnell wouldn’t stand behind Cameron if he didn’t believe Cameron has the talent to win this race. Getting the support of McConnell’s political network and winning a competitive elementary school by the age of 33, as Cameron did, is a formidable achievement.
2. The Kentucky Republican Party still has racial shortcomings – and so do the Democrats
If Cameron is a positive story in Kentucky Republicans hugging a black politician, then the Jenean Hampton saga shows the exact opposite. It was never clear that Governor Matt Bevin gave his lieutenant governor an important role in state government in the first place. Then he allowed rumors that she would be replaced festering on the ticket for months in 2019. Bevin eventually replaced Hampton on the ticket with Senator Ralph Alvarado, R-Winchester, another colored person. And then he allowed Hampton’s top aides to be fired from the government for their objections, which led Hampton to file a lawsuit against the Bevin administration this week.
If Republicans stress that they have a racially diverse list of candidates (two of their seven nationwide hopefuls aren’t white), what happened to Hampton complicates that story. (Along with the governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general, Kentuckians will vote for candidates for the state agriculture commissioner, auditor, secretary of state and treasurer in November.)
All seven Democratic candidates across the state are white, although Kentucky’s Democratic voters are more than 20% non-white (mostly black). That’s not a good look for the Kentucky Democrats. That said, all of Kentucky’s statehouse black members are Democrats, so outside of the 2019 statewide races, the Democrats are the more racially diverse party in Kentucky.
3. Cameron is likely to avoid criticizing Trump or the broader Republican Party on racial issues
Some of the black Republicans, who were the most influential figures during the reigns of George W. Bush and Obama, tried to push the party towards a more inclusive stance on racial issues. I am thinking in particular of Colin Powell and former Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele. Will Hurd, the Texas Congressman and currently the only black Republican in the house, has followed this tradition, occasionally criticizing Trump’s remarks on racial issues. But Hurd is retiring next year – and I suspect part of the reason Hurd is leaving is because there is little room for progress in the current GOP for those who criticize Trump.
Cameron is young and I suspect he will run for governor or senator at some point if he is elected attorney general. So I would expect him to defend Trump whenever possible and never label the president or what he said as racist. In fact, I think the road to success for aspiring Republicans in the current GOP, especially non-whites, will be to embrace Trumpism, especially and including its racist elements. Cameron could address issues such as criminal justice reform that disproportionately affect minorities. But I think he can take this course without criticizing the president on racial issues – or anything else.
4. This debate about the role of black Republicans is nothing new
Leah Wright Rigueur wrote a book called “The Solitude of Black Republicans,” which was published in 2015, long before Trump was elected president. About 90% of African Americans have voted for Democratic presidential candidates for decades, a dynamic that has long made it difficult to be a black Republican.
5. It pays to think about the term “black leader”.
Cameron is already a black leader in Kentucky – he’s black and a leading figure in the state’s dominant political party. At the same time, some of the debates surrounding Cameron’s candidacy (and black Republicans in general) have been about how much he represents or speaks for Kentucky’s broader African American. (Cameron doesn’t claim to speak for blacks, I should stress.)
One useful thing to think about is who the blacks in Kentucky vote for. Louisville has some heavily black areas, and they send Democratic politicians like MP Charles Booker and Senator Gerald Neal to Frankfurt. In fact, Democrat Greg Stumbo, who is white, is likely to get more votes than Cameron in the black-majority areas of Louisville because Stumbo is a Democrat.
6. Racing is not a big problem in Cameron vs. Stumbo
Speaking of stumbo, Cameron’s racing really isn’t an issue in their competition. The 68-year-old Stumbo, who was Attorney General from 2004 to 2008, has argued that age and experience matter – namely, that Cameron doesn’t have enough of it either.
But I would argue that for Kentucky’s constituents, the biggest difference between Cameron and Stumbo is really the party. Current Attorney General Andy Beshear, a Democrat, has filed lawsuits and has by and large served as a control over the power of Bevin and the GOP majority in both houses of lawmakers. It’s not clear whether Bevin or Beshear will be the governor in 2020. But I would expect Stumbo to scrutinize the legislature’s work if he is elected. In contrast, Cameron is likely to be more deferential to his party leaders, who run the State House and Senate.
Perry Bacon Jr. is a national political writer based in Louisville. You can contact him at [email protected]