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The GOP Field is More Diverse Than Ever. The GOP isn’t Heralding the Achievement

The GOP has its most diverse presidential field in modern history. But the party isn’t keen to trumpet it — if they address it at all.

Few of the candidates speak directly to it. Not former Rep. Will Hurd, the latest entrant in the presidential nominating contest, who said he “can’t articulate what the compare and contrast is” when asked about the record number of Republicans of color, like him, who are running.

Nor Francis Suarez, the mayor of Miami and only Latino seeking the GOP nomination. In a statement, he simply said, “We need to expand.”

And definitely not the Republican National Committee, which declined to have any official speak on the record with POLITICO.

The Republican Party is now up to a half dozen candidates of color seeking the GOP nomination, surpassing the previous record of four set during the 2016 cycle. But in the modern GOP — a party supercharged by anti-“woke” culture wars and whose presidential candidates lean heavily on white voters — it’s better left unsaid.

As Vivek Ramaswamy senior adviser Tricia McLaughlin put it, her candidate “feels the shade of melanin doesn’t matter as Americans if that’s all there is.”

Ramaswamy, a biotech entrepreneur, and former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley are both Indian American. Suarez is Cuban American. Hurd, of Texas, is biracial — his mother is white and his father is Black. South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott and Larry Elder, a former gubernatorial candidate and conservative talk show host from California, are both Black.

While they don’t emphasize their collective achievement, these candidates have addressed their own racial identities as they introduce themselves to primary voters.

Haley, the first Asian American woman to compete for the GOP nomination, spoke in her announcement video about a time when railroad tracks divided her hometown of Bamberg, S.C., by race and she seemingly didn’t fit with either side. Ramaswamy recently called himself a “non-white nationalist.” Scott often rails against Democrats for emphasizing lingering racial injustices with different versions of the same line. “My life,” he says, “disrupts their narrative. The truth of my life disrupts their lies.”

Suarez sees his position as the only Latino running as an asset.

“One in every five Americans today is Hispanic,” Suarez said in a statement. “Two-thirds of America is my age or younger. We are going to need a bigger tent.”

But such talk is often kept biographical and almost always done in the past tense. When it comes to the significance of diversity of the field at large, Republicans are hardly messaging on the issue — an illustration of the party’s larger belief that society has become too focused on, and defined by, matters of race.

The GOP, said Elder, should be celebrated for being “a party of ideas. It’s not a party of identities.”

He added, “It’s an interesting development. That’s how I would put it, not too shabby for a party that’s supposed to be a party of white supremacy.”

Ramaswamy made a similar case on Twitter on Monday, highlighting the history of an estimated 1 million white Europeans sold into slavery in Africa. “Moral of the story: it’s impossible to fix sins of the past by treating people today based on skin color. History is inexorably complex,” he added.

In part, the GOP’s aversion to discussing field-wide representation is that no candidate of color appears likely to win. In the early going, none are polling above four percent in the Real Clear Politics polling average. The primary is dominated by former President Donald Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. If one of them advances to take on the Democratic president, Joe Biden, who is also white, the diversity of the field will be long forgotten.

“I separate ‘qualified’ from ‘viable’ candidates,” explained Paris Dennard, a former spokesperson and director of Black media affairs for the RNC. “You have a deep bench of qualified minority candidates of color, but from a viability standpoint, it is former President Trump and Governor DeSantis with the lion’s share of support in the Republican primary.”

But the disinterest in discussing diversity also reflects the fraught politics of the issue inside the GOP. When Pew Research Center asked U.S. workers recently about increasing diversity, equity and inclusion efforts in the workplace, 56 percent of employed adults said it was a good thing. But among Republicans, just 30 percent agreed.

And Republican presidential candidates are more likely to downplay issues of race than highlight them. Following the Supreme Court ruling last week reversing the decades-long precedent of using race-conscious criteria for determining admissions to Harvard and University of North Carolina, Ramaswamy said, “Affirmative action is the single greatest form of institutional racism in America today.”

Scott called the ruling “a good day for America” in an interview with Fox News, while Haley tweeted: “Picking winners & losers based on race is fundamentally wrong.”

Those remarks on affirmative action, while being espoused by conservatives of color, aren’t all that different from those of Trump and DeSantis.

The GOP has invested millions in expanding its appeal to voters of color, which includes opening 38 community centers across 19 states. RNC officials say that was key to the party making inroads with Hispanic, Black, Asian American and Pacific Islander and Native American communities in recent elections. The result is that the current Congress has the most Black Republicans serving since the Reconstruction era. The five Black members include four in the House and Scott, the lone Black Republican in the Senate.

The other accomplishment — the record number of Republican candidates of color running for president — draws less attention.

“I think it’s meaningful,” said Lanhee Chen, a Republican of color who served as policy advisor to Mitt Romney’s two presidential campaigns and ran unsuccessfully for California controller last year. “It’s one of those things you look at, and you sort of, you sort of say, ‘Hey, that’s, that’s pretty cool.‘”

However, he said, “There’s a long way between being a candidate and being elected. So it’s a long road to travel.”