Arising somehow from the jaws of once-certain defeat, it appears that former Vice President Joe Biden has likely clinched the Democratic nomination. With just a few primaries remaining, Biden has beaten back Senator Bernie Sanders and a bevy of earlier contenders.
And while President Donald Trump’s reelection seemed a foregone conclusion just a month ago, the outcome of that election is now up in the air. COVID-19 and the vast panic and uncertainty it unleashed have stalled the global economy and threatened a bitter recession.
In light of these new uncertainties, both parties are more dependent than ever on voter turnout: who has shown up for a candidate and who hasn’t. Recent presidential elections, including President Barack Obama’s defeat of Senator John McCain in 2008 and Secretary of State Hilary Clinton’s loss to Trump in 2016, in an ever-narrowing margin of victory, have been won and lost based on the voter turnout for a few key demographics.
Historically, black Americans have voted solidly Democrat, at least since helping to elect President Lyndon Johnson in 1964. Their electoral participation has only grown in the last two decades. Blacks “over-performed” to elect Obama in both 2008 and 2012, representing a higher proportion of votes cast than their proportion of the eligible electorate, according to census data and Election Day exit polls. In both of those elections, a whopping 95 percent of black voters cast their ballots for Obama. Clinton’s defeat in 2016 was widely attributed to a record-low turnout of black voters, on whom Clinton had been counting to boost her to victory. Recent polling indicates that black support for the Democratic Party may be further softening.
Now Trump and the Republican Party have identified black Americans as a source of huge potential support and have ramped up efforts to bring them onboard by speaking directly to them. At the same time, grassroots campaigns of minority coalitions who have felt disenfranchised by the Democratic Party have organized a charge to move black voters left. Meanwhile, from within the black community itself, there’s a growing voice for Republican candidates and conservatism at large.
Democrats have historically won and maintained black votes through entitlement spending and more recently through emotional appeals, including a narrative that explicitly paints the Republican Party as “racist” and either callous, or downright hostile, to the needs and wellbeing of minority interests. Leaders have successfully promoted the idea that racist policing disproportionately kills young black men, although all available data disproves the claim. This message has been promoted by national black community leaders like Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson and is reiterated at the local level in churches and schools.
At this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Washington, DC, in late February, conservative black politicians, activists, and voters took a leading role in promoting Trump and the Republicans Party platform, and strategized on how best to bring black voters disillusioned with Democratic politics under the Republican umbrella.
Deneen Borelli, Fox News contributor and a member of the Trump campaign’s Black Voices for Trump, urged black voters to shift their focus to policy platforms and to not be afraid to make a change. “I think folks are too robotic about how they vote. People need to look at the issues. First of all, when you look at the 2020 presidential candidates, they’re basically pushing for socialist policies, socialism, so bigger taxes, more government; and all of that means less freedom and liberty for you and your family. So if you happen to be someone who always voted Democrat, for example, you need to take a step back and look at the policies.”
Stephanie Trussell, a conservative radio show host and a lifelong resident of Chicago, advocated crossing the aisle to challenge self-identifying Democrats. Admitting that she herself has faced name-calling from within her own community for her political beliefs, she warned that black conservatives need to be prepared for backlash but predicted that such attacks would diminish as the black conservative movement continues to grow. She noted that, over her five years attending CPAC, she has seen the number of black delegates and presenters grow substantially, with this year having the highest representation by far. She also advised black Americans to take stock of their material situation and decide whether they’re living at their full potential under the Democrat system. “If you are living in the same house and complex as your grandmother lived in somewhere, you went wrong,” she mused. “To think that you inherit a dependency in big government – it’s sad.”
Brandon Straka, founder of the WalkAway campaign, was also encouraged by what he sees as a trend towards a number of minority communities embracing the conservative Republican message under Trump. Though he is not black, his strategy is to address the unrest that has existed within the black community and other minority communities for generations, where Democratic candidates on both the local and federal level have promised change but failed to deliver. “They know that something is wrong, and they feel like something is wrong, but they’re not in touch with what that is.” Straka believes that the Trump campaign should get out in front of the “racism” claims, addressing them directly. “We could be reaching so many more people if we just took the time to communicate with them and let them know that what they’re hearing from the media, etc. [is untrue]…and corrected a lot of these false narratives.”
Delegate Princess Kuevor of Ohio, whose photo holding a gun at the Virginia gun rights rally went viral, explained some of the judgment she gets as a black conservative. “It’s a psychological thing. You’re emotionally connected to your community, people you grew up around, your pastor, your aunts or uncles…a lot of black Americans are lucky to have a family close by. So they listen to them [about politics], understandably,” she explained. “I got made fun of as a kid and I got bullied for [my values], so...it’s been that way for me since I started speaking out… I’m an individual person, and I can stand on my own. I was breathing air without you and I will still be there tomorrow.” A little defiance is all it takes, she explained.
If black voters make even an incremental change in this year’s voting patterns, whether by again staying home and withdrawing their support from the Democratic nominee as they did in 2016, or by actively shifting their vote to the Republican ticket, that change could provide that boost that Trump needs to win reelection. More importantly, that reelection could bring the change that the black voters deserve after years of broken promises by the Democratic Party.
By Emily Cohen