How Conservatives Can Do Better in Engaging Black Americans

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Commentator Deroy Murdock, besides being a Fox News regular and a contributing editor at National Review Online, is a senior fellow with the London Center for Policy Research.

Murdock joins “The Daily Signal Podcast” to share his journey to conservatism, how he got started in journalism, and what he thinks conservatives can do better to reach the black community.

“I think the primary thing that conservatives need to do to reach black Americans is make the effort,” Murdock says, adding:

I think that there is a certain hesitancy to do so. I don’t think it’s malicious. I just think there’s a sense pretty well among white conservatives [of] ‘Well, we don’t know what to say to them and we don’t know quite the language and maybe there’ll be upset.’

The best thing to do is knock on the doors, go to the black churches, go to the black businesses, go to the black schools, whatever it is, and talk about these ideas and why they’re good for America and why they’re good for black Americans.

We also cover these stories:

  • President Joe Biden holds his first official press conference over two months since taking office.
  • The CEOs of Facebook, Twitter, and Google testify before a House committee.
  • Republican senators introduce legislation to end child trafficking at the border. 

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Rachel del Guidice: I’m joined today on “The Daily Signal Podcast” by Deroy Murdock. He’s the contributing editor to National Review Online. Deroy, it’s great to have you with us on “The Daily Signal Podcast.”

Deroy Murdock: Rachel, it’s great to be with you.

Del Guidice: Well, thanks for being with us. I just want to start off, can you tell us a little bit about your story? Were you always a conservative or was this an ideological journey for you?

Murdock: That’s a great question. The reason I’m a conservative, I really thank a couple of people. My dad to a degree, he was very much, I remember when I was a little boy, really little, a big supporter of Richard Nixon.

We’d have our wonderful family dinners on most Sundays at my grandma’s place. And he and my uncles who are not right-wing at all would get into big screaming matches about Nixon, Vietnam, on and on and on. I didn’t understand most of it, but I guess some of that must have seeped in.

But the two people really should get the most credit are Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan.

I was a kid growing up in Southern California when Jimmy Carter was in the White House and I remember coming home from school, turning on the TV, and watching the Iran hostage crisis, the energy crisis, inflation, high interest rates, Soviet hegemony, all this sort of thing going on, and I thought, “My God, this is really bad. If this man is reelected, I think we’re going to have Red Army troops in Tijuana.”

I really believed that. And I think that might’ve been the case because the communists were sweeping up from El Salvador, Nicaragua, Guatemala, and probably headed north in our direction.

Simultaneously, Ronald Reagan, who was former governor, not quite yet running for president, 1980, had these wonderful radio broadcasts he did every morning, five days a week, where he would come in on the radio and talk about inflation, about the Soviet threat, about the Soviet mistreatment of Jews, communist expansion in Central America, excess government spending, why taxes need to be cut, and so on.

And I listened to this every morning and had the contrast between Jimmy Carter’s failures and the incredible hope and promise that Ronald Reagan offered.

I thought, “I like what I hear. I think this man ought to be president.” And I started volunteering for the Reagan campaign in October of 1979 when I was in the ninth grade. And I’ve been involved in the conservative movement and the free market movement ever since.

Del Guidice: Wow. That is cool. As someone who loves Reagan, I just think that’s amazing. I love his speeches, especially just listening and giving any speech. It’s just really incredible.

Murdock: It’s still magic. They hold up so well over time, the style, the delivery, but much more so than all of those things is the substance, the truths he revealed, the truths he highlighted are still completely valid today.

Del Guidice: Totally. I have to ask, since you mentioned this, do you remember any specific things out in the campaign or things that you did or stuff that has stuck with you when you were volunteering on his campaign?

Murdock: Interesting. I don’t know if any one single story jumps out at me. I just remember how exciting it was to be in junior high school, then into high school, and being involved in all of this.

I’d say really, if there’s any really big highlight, it probably would be going to the 1980 Republican Convention in Detroit and being there when Reagan was nominated. … Let’s see, I would have been, I think, an incoming 10th grader, if I’m not mistaken. That was extremely exciting.

That whole week we’re there … with a bunch of other kids from California. It was the first time I spent any time with kids from the East Coast and it was very interesting to spend time with them.

Most of the California kids were in bed sleeping by about 11 o’clock. The East Coast kids were wide awake until 3, 4 in the morning. I’m a night owl and so I had a lot of time hanging out with a bunch of New Yorkers and Massachusetts people who had the late-night tendencies that I do.

Del Guidice: That’s awesome. So, Deroy, how did you get your start in conservative media and journalism?

Murdock: I was the editor-in-chief of my junior high school paper, the Town Crier, at Paul Revere Junior High School. And I started writing op-ed pieces in fall of 1978. …

A lot of people eventually get to writing op-eds after they write news or sports or whatever. I started expressing my opinions straight away.

I started doing that immediately and wrote op-eds on all the current events of the time. As I mentioned, the energy crisis, Jimmy Carter’s failures, things Reagan was talking about, Proposition 13 in California, all this sort of stuff. And I just continued with it.

I wrote at the Tideline at Palisades High School, my high school. I was on the paper 10th, 11th grade, I believe.

And let’s see, what else did I do? Then I was at Georgetown University. I was on the staff of The Hoya. But I wrote for The Hoya and I think right about 1985 or so, when I was a junior, I believe going to senior year, I met a very wonderful man who was at the Washington Times.

He was the new incoming opinion page editor, or newly installed opinion page editor. And he was very nice to me. I met him at [the Conservative Political Action Conference], as a matter of fact, at a reception. And I sent him my op-ed pieces—a man named Bill Shescher was his name.

This is the time you had to type things up, Xerox them, and put them in an envelope, and then drop [them] in the mail. Then he would get it a day or two later and if he liked it, have his secretary type it up and so on. So that’s how we’d do things back then.

He liked the first piece I sent him, which he ran. I sent him another piece, he ran that. And he continued to run, pretty much every couple of weeks or so, op-ed pieces that I would write.

I continued from there, kept writing through college. Wrote a bit during business school at New York University. I spent a couple years in advertising, where I didn’t write very much.

Then in 1991, we had the “Read My Lips” recession when [President] George Herbert Walker Bush raised taxes, even though he said he wouldn’t do so. The economy tanked and I lost my job at Ogilvy Mather Advertising, as so many people were laid off.

And I thought, “What can I do to make money?” And so I thought, “Well, I know how to write op-ed pieces.” So I went back to the op-ed work and have continued with that and have pretty much written ever since June 13, 1991, which was when I was laid off.

I started doing TV, probably somewhere in the mid-90s, just as a guest, as well as radio. And then since January 2012, I’ve been a Fox News contributor and very happy to be on staff with them and go on the air usually a couple of times a week to talk about events of the day and express my views with the national and international audience.

Del Guidice: Thanks for sharing that with us. So, you’re a founding member of the Project 21 black leadership network. Can you, first off, tell us about what Project 21 does, and then just talk a little bit about what you’ve been doing since its inception?

Murdock: Project 21 is a project of the National Center for Public Policy Research, which was founded in the mid-1980s.

What Project 21 does is try to bring conservative ideas into the black community and also have people who happen to be black appear on television or the radio and in print, etc., talking about why free market ideas, limited government, free enterprise, the rule of law, peace through strength, why these ideas are good for the country and also good for black Americans in particular.

So, as a consequence, the Project 21 folks are very good about getting me primarily on radio stations to talk about this sort of thing. And they’ve done so for probably the last 20 years or so. And I’m very happy to work with them.

I think we are both getting the message into the black community and also showing the overall American population that there are black folks who are not left-wingers screaming for more and more government. There are people who are black who are on the right.

In fact, you saw in the last election that President Donald J. Trump got 12% of the black vote. That’s 50% more than he had in 2016. And it is, I believe, three times, if I’m not wrong—no, it’s about double, it’s double what Mitt Romney got in 2012.

So there is an appetite for these ideas among black Americans. And we’re going to continue to make that case to make those arguments and hopefully persuade those people that conservatism and free markets are very good things, very helpful things among black Americans.

Del Guidice: On that note, just given your work in the Project 21 black leadership network, how do you think conservatives just generally can do better to reach the black community more?

Murdock: I think the primary thing that conservatives need to do to reach black Americans is make the effort.

I think that there is a certain hesitancy to do so. I don’t think it’s malicious. I just think there’s a sense pretty well among white conservatives [of] “Well, we don’t know what to say to them and we don’t know quite the language and maybe there’ll be upset.”

The best thing to do is knock on the doors, go to the black churches, go to the black businesses, go to the black schools, whatever it is, and talk about these ideas and why they’re good for America and why they’re good for black Americans.

I think a lot of folks, even if they don’t necessarily agree with everything they hear, at least will appreciate the polite effort to come talk. And they’ll say, “All right, maybe I don’t agree with all of that, but I appreciate you coming to talk to us.”

I think that’s part of the reason that President Trump did as well as he did, is he’s really the first Republican presidential nominee who’s made a concerted effort to reach out for the black vote, as well as his policies such as supporting historically black colleges and universities, the First Step Act criminal justice reform, reauthorizing and funding the D.C. voucher program.

These are all sorts of things that I think a lot of black voters appreciate. And as a consequence, he did much better at the polls than most Republicans do.

So, I’d follow that model: go out, make the case, be direct about it. Be bold about it. Don’t be bashful about it.

And if the Democrats, the left scream, let them scream. They’re going to scream anyway. So at least let them scream about something in response, something positive that’s going on as opposed to just screaming, “Racist, racist, racist!” Which is what they do seven days a week, 24/7, 365.

Del Guidice: Something that’s really entered the national conversation more is this whole aspect of cancel culture.

We see it happening right and left with different conservative organizations on Twitter—people being banned with really no rhyme or reason. And it is just happening out in the community as well.

So what’s your perspective of this and how do you think conservatives can combat it?

Murdock: I think what’s amazing to watch about this cancel culture is, essentially, it’s censorship.

But unlike most censorship that you see around the world, which is conducted by governments—where the ministry of the interior will come down and shut down your newspaper, close your TV station, whatever it might be—it’s privatized.

The left’s usually against privatization, but what they’ve done is they’ve privatized censorship.

So, rather than have the FBI or the Department of Justice come in and shut down your website or your TV channel or your conservative T-shirt shop or whatever, this is being done by Google, this is being done by Amazon, this is being done by Twitter, by Facebook.

And the henchmen, if you will, are not people in long, black trench coats operating out of Washington, D.C., they’re people in T-shirts and flip-flops working in San Jose and Palo Alto and Seattle and places like this.

There’s something really unusual and new and insidious about this. It makes it much harder to fight because if the FBI came in and said, “OK, we’re shutting down Parler,” Parler could go to court and get that overturned probably overnight.

But because it’s done by private organizations—and private companies do have the right to say, “We do or don’t want to do business with these people”—but given that they are basically operating as monopolies and they’re also protected by certain government privileges, namely Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, that gives them protection from liability from lawsuits.

So, what they’re trying to do is say, “Well, we’re private. We can do what we want.” But at the same time, they’re hiding behind Uncle Sam’s coattails, if you will.

They really need to make a choice one way or the other. If they want the government protection, great. They can be protected from lawsuits, but then Parler has got to be able to appear on Amazon, in the Apple store, what have you.

People like Dennis Prager and Prager University ought to be able to appear on YouTube without getting knocked out. And conversely, if YouTube and Amazon and Twitter don’t like conservatives, that’s great. Go ahead and hate us. Don’t do business with us. But then you’re not going to get the government protection. And if something goes wrong, people can take you to court.

They’re having the best of both worlds and they really have to pick one world or the other.

Del Guidice: Deroy, thank you so much for joining us on “The Daily Signal Podcast.” It’s been great having you.

Murdock: Rachel, great to be with you, and enjoy the rest of CPAC.

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