Aaron Laramore is a black Republican in Indiana whose party’s leading candidates are a xenophobic opportunist and a religious zealot. His pickings are, indeed, very slim. So are the chances of Ohio Gov. John Kasich winning the GOP nomination. But Laramore reluctantly voted for him on Tuesday anyway.
“Of the three options, he is by far the least objectionable to me,” Laramore said during a phone interview from Indianapolis. “Trump is a buffoon. I’ve never believed he was truly serious about being president of the United States.”
Kasich, who seems like a moderate but really isn’t, has not been campaigning in Indiana before Tuesday’s primary as part of his alliance with Texas Sen. Ted Cruz to stop Trump from earning enough delegates to earn the nomination before the GOP convention.
As for Cruz, Laramore said, “I actually think of him as rather dangerous from the standpoint that he is a smart guy. Harvard trained attorney. But he’s an ideologue.”
Laramore, 50, a writer and social investment banker, sees himself as a “strong defense” and “fiscal conservative” kind of Republican. But, when it comes to race, he says there is an acute disconnect between the party and black Americans like himself. Laramore blames the Republican Party for what he thinks are his poor primary choices: the racism it refused to curtail, the religious fervor that targets anything not Christian as the enemy and its overall refusal to foster relationships in non-white communities.
So Laramore is now left to pick between a man who thinks building a wall between the U.S. and Mexico is sound foreign policy, his preferred candidate who is not even campaigning in his home state and another who one once tweeted that net neutrality is akin to Obamacare. While the media have enjoyed the circus, Laramore feels isolated within his own party.
“Your average base Republican would really consider me a big RINO,” he said. “I’m generally conservative, but I’m black and I don’t forget the history of black people in America.”
A Republican for 10 years, Laramore has yet to vote for a GOP candidate for president. In 2008 and 2012, he cast his ballot for Barack Obama. The obstructionist mindset Republican leadership took toward Obama during his first four years further alienated him; Laramore responded by canvassing for the President in 2012.
Leah Wright Rigueur, Assistant Professor of Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School, says black Republicans are more likely to switch their party support during presidential elections than any other voting demographic. In her recently published book The Loneliness of the Black Republican: Pragmatic Politics and the Pursuit of Power, Rigueur goes into great detail about the GOP’s successes and failures of retaining black voters.
During the first half of the twentieth century, she says, there was a back and forth between both parties for black support. In fact, prior to 1948, black people were just as likely to claim they were Republican as they were Democrat.
However, African-Americans left the party in droves the 1960s, after it nominated Sen. Barry Goldwater for president. During the height of the Civil Rights Movement, Goldwater voted against the 1964 Civil Rights Act, claiming it was unconstitutional. Black Americans responded by voting against him in large numbers. Some people have dubbed him as the “Father of the Tea Party” and believe his extremist views set the precedent for the current state of the GOP. Most people blame Trump for the state of xenophobic and anti-immigrant fervor that is energizing much of the party’s base, but Rigueur says that claim is not historically accurate.
“The idea that you can exploit racial and economic anxiety for political gain is not a new idea at all,” she said. “Some black Republicans have wrestled with this. Most are uncomfortable doing so because it means indicting the party they have affiliated themselves with for much of their political lives.”
Abdul-Hakim Shabazz, a black conservative and political commentator in Indianapolis, agrees with Rigueur, adding that the GOP has long struggled to strike a balance with its the hyper-conservative base of its party.
“For Republicans to win and have a base that’s motivated, they’ve relied on the more ideological, far right crowd,” said Shabazz, who runs the blog Indy Politics. “And now the chickens have come home to roost. And there are your candidates: Ted Cruz and Donald Trump.”
Rigueur also points out that it is very challenging to find data that truly gauges how black Republicans are responding to the current slate of Republican candidates. What we do know is that during the last 50 years, no more than 15 percent of black voters have voted for a GOP candidate for president or identified as Republican.
Those are very humbling numbers and it is not likely that Trump or Cruz will reverse that trend, given how little effort the party puts into electing diverse candidates who are not extremists. Asked about the state of his party, Laramore said, “My party is hilarious.”
One thing that is not a joke is Trump’s chances of winning Indiana and the GOP nomination. Every major poll has Trump winning Tuesday’s primary in Indiana easily. A Wall Street Journal/NBC News/Marist poll released Sunday has Cruz trailing Trump by 15 points. During a campaign stop in Terre Haute on Sunday, Trump made it clear that the GOP nomination is his if he bags the Hoosier state.
“If we win Indiana, it’s over,” he said to a crowd of approximately 1,500 people packed into a small theater.
Though he did not say who he voted for on Tuesday, Shabazz, a Republican since 1994, recalled a joke he tells friends whenever he is asked about his voting options in the general election: “Hey, Abdul. Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton? Who would you vote for. I said, ‘(Justin) Trudeau, in Canada, because that’s where I’ll be living.’”
Terrell Jermaine Starr is National Political Correspondent for Fusion. You can follow him on Twitter @Russian_Starr.