Barack Obama
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Dana Milbank added an interesting twist to the discussion about where the Democratic Party needs to go in the future.

The number of Obama-to-Trump voters turns out to be smaller than thought. And those Obama voters who did switch to Trump were largely Republican voters to start with. The aberration wasn’t their votes for Trump but their votes for Obama…

In 2008, a larger-than-usual number of Republican voters went with Obama during an extraordinary time, when the economy was in free fall and an incumbent Republican president was deeply unpopular. ANES polling found that 17 percent of Obama voters in 2008 had been for George W. Bush in 2004, compared with the 13 percent of Trump voters, the same survey found, who supported Obama at least once. These people aren’t Obama-Trump voters as much as they were Bush-Obama voters.

Milbank goes on to provide this data to suggest that the Obama-Trump voters were actually Republicans:

The AFL-CIO’s Podhorzer analyzed raw data from the Cooperative Congressional Election Study , out in the spring, and found that Obama-Trump voters voted for Republican congressional candidates by a 31-point margin, Republican Senate candidates by a 15-point margin and Republican gubernatorial candidates by a 27-point margin. Their views on immigration and Obamacare also put them solidly in the GOP camp.

His conclusion is that Democrats should forget about winning over these voters and instead “the party would do better to go after disaffected Democrats who didn’t vote in 2016 or who voted for third parties.”

While I find his analysis a fascinating addition to the discussion, I don’t necessarily agree with his conclusion. Before we go there, it would be helpful to at least ask ourselves why these Republicans were motivated to support Obama.

In answer to that question, there are a couple of items that were idiosyncratic to the 2008 and 2012 elections. The first is that many of these voters chose Obama because of the abject failure of the prior Republican administration both domestically and globally. Faced with the Great Recession and ongoing wars in the Middle East, an awful lot of people were ready for a change. Then, in 2012, the hedge fund Republican candidate dismissed 47 percent of the population as moochers and defended the idea that corporations are people.

But let’s be honest. For a group of white working class Republicans to vote for Obama, there had to be more to it than that. Our first African American president ran on hope during a time of despair. He ran on unity at a time when our politics were becoming increasingly divided. That message threatened the Republicans so dramatically that they vowed to obstruct him at every turn in order to ensure that the despair deepened and we became even more divided. That is precisely why this message from Rev. William Barber is so important right now.

Don’t you understand how afraid they are of our unity? Think about it:

  • if they had to engage in voter suppression just to win
  • if they had to spend pornographic sums of money to divide and conquer us
  • if they had to go all the way to Russia and get help just to win…

We are not weak. Somebody fears our unity.

Because you don’t cheat somebody that you can win in a fair fight. 

I came by here to say what your theme says: No more separation. Black and white, Latino let’s come together. No more separation… ‘Voting Rights’ is a union issue. ‘Wages’ is a civil rights issue. We need a steadfast togetherness so that our movement won’t have movement fatigue. We can’t bow down.

Now​​​​, we must be stronger together. Now, we must fight back together. Now, we must save the soul of this nation together. Now, we must fight for justice together. Now, we must fight for love together. Now, we must save our children’s future together …

Contrary to what Milbank and other pundits prescribe, I think it is a mistake for Democrats to target a single group of voters and craft a message that appeals to them. That approach reinforces the divide and ultimately leads to more cynicism. Instead, Democrats should start with the values and ideals on which the Party stands and build a movement of unity around the policies that emanate from them.

While acknowledging the darkness that has overtaken our national politics in the Trump era, it would be a mistake to adopt the anger and despair on which that darkness feeds. Offering an alternative to the Republicans means shinning a light that ignites the possibility of hope and unity going forward. After two (or four) more years of abject failure from Republicans, it is possible that such a message might once again appeal to Bush-Obama voters.

Nancy LeTourneau

Follow Nancy on Twitter @Smartypants60.