He’s not just any Democrat. This is a guy who gave a seconding speech for O’s nomination four years ago at the convention and was the southern regional co-chair for the DCCC. With those credentials, the PR value to the GOP of having him dump his old party to become a Republican would be huge under any circumstances. Factor in the symbolism of a young black Harvard-trained pol abandoning the Dems in the middle of Obama’s reelection campaign and you’ve got a GOP folk hero in the making. From his blog post announcing his party switch:
But parties change. As I told a reporter last week, this is not Bill Clinton’s Democratic Party (and he knows that even if he can’t say it). If you have read this blog, and taken the time to look for a theme in the thousands of words (or free opposition research) contained in it, you see the imperfect musings of a voter who describes growth as a deeper problem than exaggerated inequality; who wants to radically reform the way we educate our children; who despises identity politics and the practice of speaking for groups and not one national interest; who knows that our current course on entitlements will eventually break our solvency and cause us to break promises to our most vulnerable—that is, if we don’t start the hard work of fixing it.
On the specifics, I have regularly criticized an agenda that would punish businesses and job creators with more taxes just as they are trying to thrive again. I have taken issue with an administration that has lapsed into a bloc by bloc appeal to group grievances when the country is already too fractured: frankly, the symbolism of Barack Obama winning has not given us the substance of a united country. You have also seen me write that faith institutions should not be compelled to violate their teachings because faith is a freedom, too. You’ve read that in my view, the law can’t continue to favor one race over another in offering hard-earned slots in colleges: America has changed, and we are now diverse enough that we don’t need to accommodate a racial spoils system. And you know from these pages that I still think the way we have gone about mending the flaws in our healthcare system is the wrong way—it goes further than we need and costs more than we can bear.
Taken together, these are hardly the enthusiasms of a Democrat circa 2012, and they wouldn’t be defensible in a Democratic primary. But they are the thoughts and values of ten years of learning, and seeing things I once thought were true fall into disarray. So, if I were to leave the sidelines, it would be as a member of the Republican Party that is fighting the drift in this country in a way that comes closest to my way of thinking: wearing a Democratic label no longer matches what I know about my country and its possibilities.
The obvious question, as noted by Cavuto: Is there a good reason to believe this is something more principled than the political calculation made by Arlen Specter three years ago? He was a guy who enjoyed being in government, saw his way blocked within his own party, and then conveniently crossed the aisle. Davis’s statement is more substantive than Specter’s “I didn’t leave them, they left me” whinge about Republican radicalism, but what he tells Cavuto here about how easy it’d be for him to run as a Democrat again in Alabama’s 7th District if he wanted to is nonsense. Go skim Wikipedia’s short but useful synopsis of his troubles with black Democrats during his run for Alabama governor two years ago. He voted against ObamaCare, presumably with an eye to making himself more viable to conservatives in the general election, and was then duly attacked with this all-time classic Jesse Jackson race-baiting sleaze grenade: “You can’t vote against healthcare and call yourself a black man.” That wasn’t the first time Davis has been smeared as “not black enough”; his Democratic opponent used it against him in the 2002 7th District primary. (Black voters make up a majority of the 7th District.) If he tried to challenge Terri Sewell in the primary in 2014, even as a groveling newly minted “I’ve seen the light” liberal, he’d be blasted as a sellout who abandoned the first black president on the most important vote of his presidency. He’s also supported voter ID laws, which is as heretical as it gets on the left. If he’s interested in getting back into government, crossing the aisle is obviously the smart move. Tim Scott and Allen West have proved to any doubters that southern conservatives will rally behind black Republicans, and Davis has an irresistible pitch in being able to tell Virginia GOPers “you were right all along.” But I don’t know: Genuine political conversions do happen, even to Ronald Reagan. I’m sure Davis will be welcomed into the fold even if no one’s quite sure yet how deep his conservatism runs. Being bitterly attacked by liberals, which is sure to come, will only help him in that regard.
Update: I’m reminded that this isn’t the only case of a Democrat switching parties in the news today.