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GOP must not ignore J.C. Watts

By Roland Martin, CNN Contributor
December 7, 2012 -- Updated 1237 GMT (2037 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Former Rep. J.C. Watts might run for the chairmanship of the Republican National Committee
  • Some establishment Republicans are blasting him, says Roland Martin
  • But if the GOP wants any kind of future, it should listen to Watts very closely, Martin says
  • It's time for the GOP to "sit back, shut up and take notes," says Martin

Editor's note: Roland Martin is a syndicated columnist and author of "The First: President Barack Obama's Road to the White House." He is a commentator for the TV One cable network and host/managing editor of its Sunday morning news show, "Washington Watch with Roland Martin."

(CNN) -- A number of establishment Republicans are privately blasting former Rep. J.C. Watts and his comments about considering a run for the chairmanship of the Republican National Committee. They call him arrogant for even suggesting he could do the job, and some have said the talk is more about his ego than a vision for the party.

In fact, he has been likened to former RNC Chairman Michael Steele. Both are conservative, but clearly that comparison is based on their skin color and not anything else.

The Republican Party establishment should tread carefully here, because even if members choose not to vote for Watts -- if he decides to even seek the job -- it is his skin color and perspective that is central to the GOP having any sort of presidential future.

Roland Martin
Roland Martin

We might as well not play footsie: The Republican Party is a group largely composed of and targeting white Americans. Yes, there are minority Republicans. But considering how President Obama was able to destroy Mitt Romney at the ballot box last month with a racial coalition that rolled up massive support among blacks, Hispanics and Asians, the GOP has a problem.

The day has passed when the GOP can win the presidency by focusing on white Americans. Folks, this is simple math. With the nation moving toward becoming a majority-minority country, the Republican Party cannot afford to continue to ignore, alienate and, frankly, tick off minority voters.

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What J.C. Watts is trying to do is to get party leaders to understand that as a former college football legend at the University of Oklahoma, he knows when a failed game plan needs to be thrown out. In football, if you lose, you often get rid of the coach and find someone who can recruit better players to put you on the path to winning.

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Does that mean the GOP should throw out RNC chairman Reince Priebus? Not necessarily. But it is abundantly clear that the modern-day GOP had better find a new game plan or it is going to be on the outside of the Oval Office for quite some time.

J.C. Watts is no stranger to this discussion. When he served in the leadership of the House Republican Conference as a member of Congress from Oklahoma, he often tried to quietly address these issues within the party, and his comments often fell on deaf ears.

Now Watts can look to his Republican buddies and say, "Didn't I tell you? Now are y'all ready to pay attention?"

But as long as guys like Mitt Romney surrogate John Sununu, a former New Hampshire governor and chief of staff to President George H.W. Bush, continue to assert that people voted for President Obama because of handouts, the GOP will resemble that old, drunk uncle you hate to invite over for family dinners because he manages to make everyone look foolish.

The Republican Party's problem isn't that its members have to better explain its policies to minorities. No. It's that they all need to shut up and listen.

Yes, listen. Because every time top GOP officials open their mouths, all they seem to do is insult the very people they need to vote for them.

This is about relationships. It is about having a dialogue. It's about listening to what Americans desire and seeing where there is agreement, whether it's education, the environment, entrepreneurship, sentencing reform, immigration or a host of other issues. Too often, the GOP is afraid to talk to minorities, especially black folks, and that results in turning them off in a huge way.

And just saying, "Look! We have elected some minorities to office" ain't gonna cut it. How did having a Hispanic governor in New Mexico and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio help Mitt Romney in the last election?

J.C. Watts understands that being able to commuincate with black, Hispanic and Asian business owners about issues other than taxes is going to make a difference. Sorry, GOP, just touting smaller government and fewer taxes won't cut it. The discussion must be broad and touch upon the issues that affect these voters every day.

And the only way a Priebus can even understand how to talk to and work with black folks is having a relationship with the likes of J.C. Watts, Colin Powell, Texas Education Commissioner Michael Williams, Florida Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll, South Carolina Rep. Tim Scott, former Citigroup and Time Warner chairman Richard Parsons and so many others and say, "Please, take the time to educate me on the issues and concerns resonating among black folks, and how our agenda can appeal to them."

Then you sit back, shut up and take notes.

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The same needs to happen with other constituencies that the Democratic Party has dominated. This is the only effective way the GOP will come to grips with the enormous problems it has in these communities. The party first must know why there is so much resistance, and then go about methodically addressing the issues.

And that will mean having an extraordinary outreach program that must be funded and staffed. The fact is, the massive outreach effort that is needed may not pay off for the GOP in 2016. But laying the groundwork today could mean seeing the fruits of that labor then and beyond.

But I can guarantee the GOP one thing: If it ignores minority constituents and dismisses them, it will get destroyed at the ballot box. The only way for fruits to grow is if the seed is planted, cultivated and tended to. The GOP has been unwilling to get its hands dirty and do the hard work when it comes to minority voters. Keep it up and it will starve to death. I guarantee.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Roland S. Martin.

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