WASHINGTON — The Republican National Committee has hired veteran strategist Telly Lovelace as its next communications director for black media, three sources tell BuzzFeed News.
Lovelace faces the daunting task of repairing the Republican brand within the black community at a time when Donald Trump is drawing white supremacists into the party.
It's a job some have said is a reason for recent departures at the RNC. Although Trump has said he will fight for the black vote, his likely nomination has already hurt Republicans in the black community, and party insiders warn Lovelace is going to have to be good at spinning Trump's statements and rhetoric — and even then, he'll need the full support of party leaders if he's going to succeed.
“I’m not so sure that the role is irrelevant insofar as it is unsupported,” said Leah Wright Rigueur, the author of The Loneliness of the Black Republican, in an email to BuzzFeed News. “The position is only powerful if the full force and funding of the RNC is behind it, and if the rest of the party embraces, in both actions and behaviors, the message of inclusion.”
“As an added burden, repairing the relationship between African Americans and the GOP is becoming increasingly difficult. The RNC’s black outreach looks especially insincere when viewed in the shadow of Donald Trump, who continues to alienate black voters," Rigueur said.
Still, one prominent black strategist insisted being the black face of the Republican Party is still "a desirable position. In this position, a person could potentially be the face, voice, and brains behind inclusion of blacks in the GOP."
On Friday afternoon, the RNC released a statement saying Lovelace was a "welcome addition."
“Engaging with Black voters and all diverse communities across the country is a top priority for the RNC,” chairman Reince Priebus said in a statement. “Telly is a welcome addition to our team, and I’m confident his experience will help us build on our commitment to cultivate relationships and trust with Black media and Black communities.”
For decades, Republicans have continued to loose ground to Democrats in the black community. Following the 2012 election, top Republicans vowed to try and finally turn things around, committing to identifying ways in which to regain trust and support amongst black Americans.
In it's 2014 Growth and Opportunity Project report, the GOP insisted the party and black voters have much in common, but conceded that "the Republican Party must be committed to building a lasting relationship within the African-American community year-round, based on mutual respect and with a spirit of caring."
Although the national party has done some work to build inroads into the black community, most of that work is quickly being undone by Trump, who has continuously clashed with Black Lives Matters activists, defended supporters who have beaten black protesters at his rallies, and used what many activists see as racially coded language when talking about black Americans.
That dynamic means an even bigger lift for the black face of the Republican Party, and that responsibility will fall now to Lovelace, who takes over for the departed Orlando Watson. It wasn't immediately clear when Lovelace will start at the RNC, but two sources said he and the RNC reached an agreement Thursday.
The announcement drew the attention of the Democrats.
“God bless Telly Lovelace on his new role," Deshundra Jefferson, a DNC spokesperson told BuzzFeed News. "The Republican Party has worked hard to further alienate black voters this election cycle, and the dog whistles that the GOP has been blowing the past few years have come full circle now that Donald Trump looks like their presumptive nominee.”