‘The last time I spoke at a convention, it turned out I was in the wrong place.’ Artur Davis spoke last night at what he now believes is the right venue for him: the Republican National Convention. It did not take him long to reconcile himself to Republicans angry that they were welcoming a man who had provided the official second in favour of Barack Obama’s candidacy at the Democratic Convention four years ago.
Davis has a most unusual personal story. Like most African Americans, he had been a Democrat all his life, and served in the House of Representatives for eight years until 2011. In 2010, he campaigned, unsuccessfully, for the Democrat nomination for Governor of Alabama, while also voting against Obamacare. He retired from the House in 2011 and then formally changed his party affiliation to the Republicans this year. His switch came at a time when his new party is struggling more than ever to appeal to black Americans.
A few months later, Davis found himself in a primetime speaking slot at the Republican Convention. The most interesting aspect of his speech last night was its ostentatious call to the ‘estimated six million of us who know we got it wrong in 2008 and want to fix it’. He said he had been led by ‘high-flown words’ from Obama, only to find that ‘dreams meet daybreak’. He implored Americans: ‘This time, instead of moving oceans and healing planets, let’s get our bills in order and pay down the debt so we can control our own future.’
His words seemed to echo one of Ronald Reagan’s most powerful lines: ‘I didn’t leave the Democratic Party. The party left me.’ While Democrats cry that the Republicans have moved ever-rightward, notably on taxation for the wealthiest and abortion, Davis’ response is that it is really the Democrats who have abandoned the centre ground. He pleaded with middle America, saying: ‘Ask yourself if these Democrats still speak for you.’
But he has a challenge on his hands if he wants to appeal specifically to African Americans: a recent NBC/WSJ News poll gave Romney 0 per cent support among African Americans. Yes, really.
He will find that appealing as he did in his speech to key swing voters will be more effective. They are better categorised not sociologically but in terms of their political beliefs. Fiscal conservatism with moderate views on social issues is the dominant strand of American thinking: the Republicans risk losing support gained through holding the first position through their increasing extremism on the second.
More speeches like Davis’ – moderate (by 21st century political standards, at least) in tone, and eschewing any mention of social issues whatsoever, will be the most valuable in Romney’s quest to become the 45th President of the United States.Tags: Mitt Romney, Republicans, US politics