PALLE: Diversity and Inclusion in the Virginia GOP

📷: Jonathan Williams / Political Shoots

Learning Lessons from Youngkin’s Victory

By Srilehka Palle

Diversity in the Republican Party is a timely topic. Election 2021 will define the Republican Party of Virginia (RPV) for many years to come. Not only did we win a state-wide Republican sweep, but ours was the most diverse slate of candidates – both at the top of the ticket and down-ballot — in the history of the Commonwealth of Virginia. An immigrant African American woman (the first in Virginia on all counts) as our Lt. Governor, a Cuban American as our Attorney General, and the very first private equity executive as our Governor. We worked hard to make this happen – but the candidates we had to work with are extraordinary. 

I am a Hindu American and a proud Republican. I know that Republican principles of faith, family, individual freedom, parental control of education choices for their children, limited government, low taxes, effective law enforcement, strong borders and national defense do indeed resonate with my community. But translating these principles into actual votes has been an uphill battle.

Indeed, the 24/7 toxic stew of social media and cable news manipulating public opinion in favor of Democratic Party operatives is partly to blame. But we, in the Republican Party, must accept some blame too. Until recently, the Republican Party failed to outreach to racial, ethnic, and religious minorities, many of whom agree with our political principles. But they rarely hear from us – neither in our grassroots coalition outreach nor in our candidate recruitment.

For decades, Democrats have cultivated a close community bond with racial, ethnic, and religious minorities in the cities and the suburbs where they live. Folks, this is their vaunted urban political machine, touted in media polls, that Republicans have been unable to penetrate.

The Youngkin Campaign has changed that dynamic. For decades, Democrats have cultivated a close community bond with racial, ethnic, and religious minorities in the cities and the suburbs where they live. Folks, this is their vaunted urban political machine, touted in media polls, that Republicans have been unable to penetrate. Their secret sauce is fear-mongering. They have convinced these impressionable communities that they are under threat from climate change, race-based economic disparities, exploitation of immigrants by the Feds and local law enforcement, health care and housing crisis. 

So, how exactly did Glenn Youngkin crash this blue wall? By proactively building a significant grassroots coalition with racial, ethnic, and religious minorities. I know that Hindu Americans truly appreciate Glenn’s personal outreach to us, and we surely contributed to the Republican gains in Northern Virginia. Moreover, the Youngkin campaign ads focused on kitchen table issues, which deeply resonated – schools, safety, and the cost of living.

Here are my recommendations: 

Noting that the younger generation is more diverse, let’s bridge the Republican support gap among millennials and Gen Z: 

  • More high school and college clubs (including Turning Point Clubs) on campuses that have greater diversity 
  • Proactive outreach to minority parents to speak up on education choice, join the PTA and serve on school boards 

Expand minority grassroots outreach: 

  • Diversify the hosting community for RPV (State and local) meet and greets 
  • Build diverse faith coalitions, visit community centers and places of worship 
  • Identify and recruit influencers from each community 
  • Establish State and local Party committees focused on minority candidate recruitment and inclusiveness of issue-coverage. 

My tips for winning messaging: 

  • Racial, ethnic, and religious minorities are not monolithic; each community is culturally unique; we must show empathy for the issues important to each community 
  • Empower minority community leaders and influencers with a seat and a voice at the table enabling inclusiveness in issue-coverage and political platform development 
  • Don’t give Democrats free media — elected or Party officials should remain vigilante regarding racially insensitive comments or stereotypical assumptions:
    • All Muslims are not terrorists 
    • All blacks are not on welfare 
    • All Hispanics are not illegals 
    • All Asians are not stealing the American jobs 

Identify and recruit diverse candidates; groom and support them at the local GOP level: 

  • The state of Indiana Republican Party had year-long training courses focused on grooming minority candidates; let’s review and possibly utilize this as a model. The Leadership Institute should have additional classes focused not just on minority engagement but minority candidate recruitment. 
  • Fundraising is a huge challenge for minority candidates. Potential solutions can include establishing a Party PAC targeting qualified minority candidates; direct campaign donations to qualified minority candidates; donating to existing minority-led PACs. 
  • Be open to diversity and new voices in Party leadership. When minority community leaders or influencers have the courage to speak up and support Republican principles, provide a platform for them, encourage, and support them. Let me point out that I faced an uphill battle too, but I am persistent. But I am afraid, many minority immigrants might be turned off by the lack of support and lack of diversity within the party. 

In conclusion, Election 2021 in Virginia has given us a dynamic and inclusive Republican Party. We have learned that social media and cable news cannot be our political drivers and that we must empower activists and civic-conscious citizens from diverse communities. 

Srilekha Palle is the Fairfax GOP’s vice chair of campaigns and elections. In 2019, she was a candidate for the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. This article was first published by American Kahani.

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