Barack Obama and Mitt Romney

“If you’re basing your entire campaign on white people, it leaves you little margin of error.” Donald Trump? No, Mitt Romney.

Many years ago, in 2012, just after the election in which Barack Obama beat Mitt Romney to win his second term, Slate published a very interesting article that merits revisiting as we think about how to beat Trump in 2020 and who is most likely to do so.

The answer, unsurprisingly, comes down to African American voters. Romney was quite certain going into the election that he was going to win, despite lots of polling data indicating otherwise. The Romney campaign believed that most polls overestimated the number of Democrats in general, and African Americans in particular, who would turn out in 2012. For some reason, they thought African Americans had lost their enthusiasm for Obama between 2008 and 2012.

It seems reasonable to suspect that Romney’s campaign staff did not have a strong representation of African Americans.

Apart from enthusiasm for Obama, Romney embraced during the campaign a certain celebrity who had loudly bruited the claim that Obama was not a legitimate president for having been born outside the United States. That celebrity was one Donald Trump.

The Democrat wins when s/he can fire up African American voters. Policies that help African Americans are mostly likely to help everyone else as well. The only obvious example of an idea for which that is not true is reparations, or financial compensation for descendants of slaves, which is obviously a policy that aims very specifically at African Americans, but such compensation would benefit lots of other people in giving African Americans money to spend, which they would undoubtedly do to some extent in white owned businesses.

One of the most interesting points in the Slate article is that Romney believed he needed to win independent voters, so he aimed policy ideas at them. The article focuses on Ohio as a key swing state that has played a crucial role in several recent presidential elections. It states that Romney won independents there, but still lost the state. So the much vaunted independent voters may not be as critical as everyone tends to assume.

It is true that the article also points out how Obama used the power of the presidency effectively, an advantage the Democrat will not have in 2020, but one that Trump may well fail to use well, since he is too stupid to understand the concept.

But the key message is that the Democrats need, above all else, a candidate who can connect effectively with African American voters to win in 2020.

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