Ex-Democratic Star on Blacks and the GOP

In Part 2 of our Q&A, Artur Davis talks about ditching Obama and defining a new message for Republicans.

(The Root) — In Part 1 of our interview with former Democratic Rep. Artur Davis, he explained his reasons for crossing the aisle to the Republican Party. “There is no center right in the Democratic Party. There is in the Republican Party, and it fits, in many ways, how I see the world,” explained the man who ran unsuccessfully for governor in the decidedly red state of Alabama.

Davis — now a visiting fellow at the Harvard Institute of Politics and living in his adopted home state of Virginia — elaborated on his disillusionment with President Obama, whom he endorsed in 2008, in Part 2 of his interview with The Root. He also talked about whether he would campaign for Mitt Romney or run for office again, as well as why he believes that younger African Americans will take a second look at the Republican Party over the next decade.

The Root: You hold the distinction of being the first House member to endorse Barack Obama for president. What was it that you admired about the president back then, and what about him has changed for you since?

Artur Davis: I got behind Barack Obama early and enthusiastically for two very simple reasons. First, I really believed that Barack Obama being elected would change race in this country. I believed that it would change the way we regarded each other around racial lines. And I believed that it would make this the kind of country where African Americans could aspire to hold office without their color being a disqualifier.

I know 100 percent what it’s like to have people tell you that you can’t hold an office because of your color, and to have people vote based on that belief. I really believed electing Barack Obama would change that obstacle — not for some 5-year-old out there, but for those of us who are around right now.

Second of all, I believed that the president was going to be a centrist figure who would steer the Democratic Party in that kind of direction. I didn’t believe that Barack Obama was going to be an ideological figure. I believed that he was the one Democrat who had the potential to draw moderate Southerners into the party. I had very specific reasons for believing that an Obama election would change the country and the party in ways that I liked.

Well, that didn’t happen. The opposite happened. The country’s become more racially polarized. Race is probably more of a barrier today than it was four years ago, and the party has moved in a leftward direction that is far less inclusive ideologically than it used to be. Those things diminished my enthusiasm over time. So, like many people who get the opposite of what they vote for, they ultimately begin to be sympathetic to the other side and hear other arguments.

TR: But in terms of the social change around race that didn’t occur, is that really something that can be pinned on President Obama?