Why the Next Black President Could be a Republican

Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) is more popular in South Carolina than his white Senate colleague Lindsey Graham, one study found. (Alex Holt/for The Washington Post)
Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) is more popular in South Carolina than his white Senate colleague Lindsey Graham, one study found. (Alex Holt/for The Washington Post)

Two years before Donald Trump became president, he tweeted, “Sadly, because president Obama has done such a poor job as president, you won’t see another black president for generations!”

But six months into Trump’s tenure, there’s a growing buzz among Democrats that the next black president has already been identified: first-term Sen. Kamala Harris of California. “She’s running for president,” one fundraiser told the Hill. “Take it to the bank.” “The dominant trend in Democratic Party politics is fresh, new and interesting,” another fundraiser told Politico. “And Kamala is the trifecta on that.”

I’m bullish on the idea that we’ll have another black president. But it’s not a given that the next one will be a Democrat.

That might seem like a wild assertion, particularly given the role that racial resentment played in Trump’s electoral victory. It’s no secret that the GOP continues to fail spectacularly at messaging to black voters. The party’s present approach to African Americans is best summed up by Trump’s mockingly unserious entreaty last year to vote Republican: “What the hell do you have to lose?”

Black voters have lent long-standing and overwhelming support to the Democratic Party. And most of the nation’s rising black political stars are Democrats: Harris, Sen. Cory Booker (N.J.) and former governor Deval Patrick (Mass.) — who is, reportedly, the preferred candidate of several prominent Obama administration alumni, including Valerie Jarrett .

The conventional wisdom assumes that a black presidential candidate can succeed only in the more racially progressive of the two major parties — the Democrats — and with the widespread support of black voters. But this isn’t necessarily so.

An examination of gubernatorial and senatorial elections since the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 shows that there have been comparable numbers of popularly elected black Republicans (eight) and popularly elected black Democrats (10). Though the two black governors were Democrats, the majority of the 10 black lieutenant governors have been Republicans, including the two currently holding office: Jenean Hampton of Kentucky and Boyd Rutherford of Maryland. In the Senate, there have been two black Republicans to four Democrats. At the statewide level, where gerrymandered districts aren’t a factor, a black Republican in a top office is no more anomalous than a black Democrat.

More significant to the prospects for a black GOP presidential nominee is the specific convergence of trends playing out across the country, particularly the intensifying hyper-partisanship. As the nation has sorted itself along party lines and antipathy has risen between the two sides, white Republicans who might harbor racial animus are willing to shelve that impulse to ensure that Democrats lose elections. “At a minimum, the level of ideological polarization in American politics masks racially prejudiced voting behavior, and at a maximum, it renders it inoperable,” according to a recent study on white conservatives in the GOP’s base from professors M.V. Hood of the University of Georgia and Seth McKee of Texas Tech. The pull of partisanship is so strong and has become so central to the identity of white Republicans that their views on race take a back seat when they enter the voting booth.

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SOURCE: Theodore R. Johnson 
The Washington Post