From proud Republican harbinger to sad Republican castaway – that’s the story of Rep. Mia Love, who finally conceded her extraordinarily close House race Monday.
It’s the story of her party, really. Of what it once realized about the future and how it slouched backward into the past. Of trading the elixir of hope for the toxin of fear.
It charts Republicans’ ugly drift under President Donald Trump, who rooted for her defeat not only as the votes in Utah’s 4th Congressional District were still being counted (“Mia Love gave me no love,” the president pouted) but with all that he said on the campaign trail and has done in the White House. Tacitly and explicitly, he has sown disdain for the likes of Love, a daughter of Haitian immigrants who, in 2014, became the first black Republican woman ever elected to either chamber of Congress.
She remains the only one. When she leaves at the end of this year, there will be just two black Republican men – one in the House and one in the Senate.
Everything you heard about the exciting diversification of midterm races? About the significantly increased numbers of women running for office, of people of color, of LGBT candidates?
That was on the Democratic side. The Republicans either couldn’t be bothered, couldn’t find any takers or – my guess – both. Love called that out in a remarkable concession speech Monday. To the victor go the spoils, but from the vanquished comes the candor.
“Because Republicans never take minority communities into their home and citizens into their homes and into their hearts, they stay with Democrats,” Love said. Democrats “do take them home – or at least make them feel like they have a home.”
In defeat, she added, “I am unleashed, I am untethered and I am unshackled, and I can say exactly what’s on my mind.” That language was a measure of her anger, an admission of how much she had concealed and an example of why she’s a flawed messenger, her righteousness in full flower only now that there’s no immediate price to pay for it.
She should be listened to nonetheless.
Go back to 2012. She was the 36-year-old mayor of Saratoga Springs, Utah, and Republican leaders couldn’t embrace her tightly enough. They loved her profile, her arc: parents who had fled poverty and chaos (and who didn’t become American citizens until after her birth); the family’s new beginning in Brooklyn; her college education; her interracial marriage; her three children.
By promoting her, those leaders advertised openness to young people, to minorities, to immigrants. They steered her candidacy for the House that year, sending Washington political reporters her way and giving her a speaking slot at the Republican National Convention. She alluded glowingly to Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks even as she urged that President Barack Obama not be re-elected. She became a national story.
That may be why she lost that race: She seemed too far ahead of herself, too far afield of local concerns. But two years later, she won, becoming not just the first black Republican woman in Congress but also the first Haitian-American.
These were the first sentences of a Washington Post article about her victory: “For at least half a century, the party of Lincoln has battled charges that it is racist, sexist and anti-immigrant. Today, voters from a conservative state made those arguments a little bit harder to make.”
“This was huge,” the article went on to say. “A party threatened with electoral extinction among African-Americans and immigrants now has someone to brag about in Washington.”
This was when Republicans were still seriously mulling the famous “autopsy” after Mitt Romney’s 2012 defeat, a document that cautioned them against harsh rhetoric and resistance to the country’s demographic changes. This was about six months before Trump came down that escalator in Trump Tower and ranted about rapists from Mexico.
Then came the Muslim ban, the singling-out of black athletes, the equivocation over white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the reported use of a vulgar adjective to denigrate countries, including Haiti, from which immigrants of color came to the United States.
Love issued a public statement about that last indignity, denouncing the president’s remarks and imploring him to apologize. Of course he never did.
And during her 2018 re-election bid, she kept him at arm’s length, as did many other Republicans campaigning in areas, like hers, where support for him wasn’t strong. Asked by a reporter whether she would back the president in 2020, she said, “I don’t know.”
Did he cost her the election anyway? Impossible to say. She had her own shortcomings. But this much is certain: Once heralded as a Republican ambassador, she has been established as a Republican anomaly.
The House is about to welcome nine new black lawmakers. None are Republicans. It’s about to welcome at least 36 new female lawmakers. Only one is Republican. Among a total count of at least 102 women in the new House, there are nearly seven times as many Democrats as Republicans.
For now, maybe, these numbers don’t spell the Republican Party’s death.
But they’re no way to live.
Frank Bruni is a columnist for The New York Times. Reach him c/o The New York Times, Editorial Department, 620 8th Ave., New York, NY 10018. © 2018 New York Times News Service