“Do not put all your eggs in one basket.”
These are not normal political days we are living in. It is almost impossible to note when was the last time two non-establishment candidates have had such a powerful presence in a presidential race. Perhaps not since Ross Perot, a Texas billionaire, ran as a third party candidate in the general election have the two candidates that the “people” actually want in Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders been such prominent threats to who the traditional GOP and DNC want as their presidential candidates. The Democrats have been behind Hillary Clinton as the candidate for a few years now and as such Bernie Sanders surprise onto the scene has caught them more than a bit off guard. On the other hand, the Republicans have been clueless the past few years who they would put as a front-runner. This in turn led to a field of sixteen candidates all believing they had a chance. Donald Trump was considered nothing more than a sideshow by GOP leadership and the assumption was that he would soon fade. In traditional years, that would be true, but these are not traditional times and that should have been on someone’s strategic radar. Especially given the fever that Republicans have generated the past eight years opposing everything the first African American president put forth. They wanted the fever, but apparently did not realize the virus they were letting loose within their voting base. Some could argue that as the demographics change in any country, as we are witnessing some of the same in Europe, that the political climate becomes more and more extreme as the majority group vies to hold onto their social, economic, and political power.
There has been utter amazement by many that Donald Trump has been able to triumph with his brash, controversial, and extremism. Many would say Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump are about as extreme on the left and right, respectively, that we have seen in a presidential election in over a hundred years. Unlike Bernie, Donald Trump though after winning in the Deep South became all but a lock to become the GOP’s candidate and GOP leadership and many in the country are in utter denial – still. However, the Grand Old Party has failed to be the “Big Tent” party it so loves to claim. It has in fact become a very small tent. It has been getting smaller and smaller in fact since the passage of the Civil Rights bill signed by Lyndon B. Johnson. The shrinkage was expedited in the late 90’s as the rise of the Christian Right all but took the party hostage and elected George W. Bush in 2000. The Christian Right’s control followed by the rise of the Tea Party that was founded in response to Barack Obama’s election has only expedited that shrinking tent and fever extremism. Now, we are on the cusp of the post-Obama era and the extremism is at a fever pitch. The GOP has failed to connect with Millenials and ethnic minorities in the country over the past thirty years. It has in fact become the party of old European American men who see their social, economic, and political power slipping away from them. Donald Trump though appeals to the European American working and lower-income class are still awaiting their ascension to the “halls of gold” that has largely been promised to them just on the basis of their ancestry. HBCU Money last year, revealed in a Brookings Institute study that poor European Americans in the bottom twenty percentile of income had a 500 percent better chance of reaching the top twenty percentile than their African American counterparts. So their “belief” is not unfounded and their frustration with the country’s demographic shift and policies reflection that shift should not be surprising to anyone. It is a parallel frustration that African America shares ever since the Civil Rights Movement ended where many assumed we would then have unfettered access to “America”.
African America was not always so politically homogenous though. In fact, from 1936-44 African America was the most politically diverse ever in our voting history. Roughly, 40 percent identified as Republican and Democrat evenly, while 20 percent identified as independent. Even with the political diversity, no less than 68 percent of African American voters regardless of party voted Democrat in presidential elections suggesting that many of those that identified as Republican were probably center-right for that day given that the Democrat Party was the conservative party in early 20th century. It also left them the opportunity to have a strong influence on who the nominee would be in the Republican party even if not eventually voting for them. It also suggest that on local levels, especially in the south, African Americans during that era were more likely to try and influence local elections. Something that has become completely void in today’s voting African America where Pew Research Center shows that 80 percent of African American voters identify as Democrat versus 11 percent identifying as Republican.
Even a ten percent shift of African American voters more than likely would have prevented the rise of Donald J. Trump as the nominee for the Republican Party. Political strategy for any group should be to ensure that regardless of who is in power their voice is heard. In this current climate however that is all but impossible and has been for the past thirty plus years and something African America’s community leaders must address. Local and state elections continue to be more important than ever and the South is still predominantly Republican even if Democrats appear to be gaining ground in more urban areas. This is especially true for HBCUs, who are all but a handful in states that are controlled by the Republican Party. The development of more moderate Republicans can appeal in states and allow us to have more opportunity to control state senates where funding for HBCUs is a battleground and certainly where governors have imperial control over who sits on the boards of public HBCUs.
Can Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton in a general election? Probably not, but it should have never even been a question to ask if African America had more political diversity. If politics is truly a game of influence, then there must be influence on both sides of the aisle.