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It took losing an election for Mia Love to finally diagnose what’s wrong with Trump’s party

Having lost her re-election, the former Utah Republican seems surprised to learn some commonly understood things about her party and her president.

Rep. Mia Love, R-Utah, in happier times, speaks to the crowd at CPAC in National Harbor, Md., on Feb. 26, 2015. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Rep. Mia Love, R-Utah, in happier times, speaks to the crowd at CPAC in National Harbor, Md., on Feb. 26, 2015. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

What was Mia Love thinking last week when she went off on President Donald Trump and members of the Republican Party establishment?

No doubt, Love — the first and only Republican black woman in the U.S. House — was likely disappointed or even angry after receiving the news that she won’t be returning to Washington, D.C., to represent Utah’s 4th congressional district, having lost her reelection bid to Democrat Ben McAdams by less than a single percentage point. Surely, that had to hurt. 

But did she honestly believe there was something unique or special about her that would temper her experience in an overwhelmingly white, conservative, and — under its current leader — overtly racist political party? Was she now, in political defeat, so crestfallen to realize it was all just a white lie? What the hell prevented her from noticing this long ago?

Had she not learned anything from the recent fates of black Republicans, people like former Rep. J.C. Watts of Oklahoma or former GOP party head Michael Steele, who suffered heartbreaking divorces with the Republican Party? Had she never heard what Colin Powell, who served in several White House administrations and as U.S. Secretary of State, had to say about the lack of willingness to embrace diversity in the GOP?

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Losing elections is part of the game. But it’s rare to see a veteran politician lose her mind, as well, and behave as irrationally as Love did when she stepped before the news cameras to concede the race to her opponent. Clearly, she was upset and wanted the watching world to know it.

This election experience and these comments shine a spotlight on the problems Washington politicians have with minorities and black Americans — it’s transactional. It’s not personal.

In her concession speech, Love griped about the failure of GOP operatives to embrace her campaign, ostensibly because of their refusal to support black Americans. In particular, Love harshly criticized President Donald Trump, who had mocked her for losing even before the final vote was tallied. On the day after the midterm elections, some two weeks before she conceded, Trump said: “Mia Love gave me no love, and she lost. Too bad. Sorry about that, Mia.”

In her turn before the cameras, Love responded to Trump with vigor and venom, accusing Republicans of patronizing black Americans along the way. She sounded more like Jesse Jackson than Jesse Helms.

“This election experience and these comments shine a spotlight on the problems Washington politicians have with minorities and black Americans — it’s transactional. It’s not personal,” she said of the failure of GOP leaders and activists to take black Americans seriously. “We feel like politicians claim they know what’s best for us from a safe distance yet they’re never willing to take us home.”

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It was a remarkable, mic-dropping performance, one that might best be described as gnawing off the hand, arm and torso of the body that ever fed her political ego. Indeed, her screed burned the bridge connecting her to the only people who had praised her as a totem of racial progress. 

In a 2012 column written on the eve of her historic election to Congress, GOP sycophant George Will praised Love as “energetic and eclectically principled,” partly for her campaign pledge to rebuff the Congressional Black Caucus and govern as a “free-market thinker.” Will wrote:

In this, one of the most racially and culturally homogenous states, the only uninteresting thing about Love is that she is black. This is not just progress; it is the destination toward which progress was directed during the brisk march to today’s healthy indifference to the fact that Love would be the first black Republican woman ever in the House.

It’s fair to say that Love’s story is one that Horatio Alger would blush to have written. She was born in Brooklyn to Haitian immigrants who fled oppression with $10 in their pocket and a dream for a better life in the United States. Love graduated from the University of Hartford in Connecticut, met her Mormon husband, converted to the predominately white religion and moved to Utah, where only one in every 100 residents is a black American, according to the 2010 Census.

Perhaps Love really is an old-school Republican at her core, one of those out-of-touch politicians who believe all social woes in American life can be cured by small government and up-by-bootstrap individualism. If that’s what she genuinely believes — and in fairness, a surprising number of black Americans share those beliefs with her — it makes sense that some Republican operatives would have sniffed out an opportunity and passed around her resume.

Love gobbled up the bait. In 2009, the year that President Barack Obama was inaugurated as the first black president of the United States, Love was elected mayor of Saratoga Springs, launching chatter among the right-wing intelligentsia that hers was a promising political career to watch. This seemed to be the case in 2014, when Utah’s voters sent her to Congress; they’d send her back again in 2016.

Alas, whatever could have been will never be; Love made sure of that with last week’s angry-black-woman speech.

A credible argument might be crafted that Love is a victim of her own naïveté, a sad story of a black woman seduced by the wiles of GOP flattery, only to be discarded after having been used and abused by racists beyond her control. If it were a elegiac novel, this tale might be titled “The Tragedy of the Black Republican Woman in the Age of Trumpism.”

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But that’s not the case here, so no such sympathy or grace is offered, nor none deserved. Love should have known better. A cursory glance at the long and horrible case studies of Republican racism, repeated over the past 50 years, should have provided ample warning that a Trumpist turn was in her party’s DNA and that her eventual electoral fate was, in fact, a fait accompli. Love has no excuse for waking up to the horrors of her party, only now that it has abruptly turned on her, dealing a fatal blow to her never-to-be-great political career.

CORRECTION: This piece originally attributed the incorrect dates — 2012 and 2014 — to Love’s electoral victories in Utah’s 4th Congressional District; they occurred in 2014 and 2016.