A Black Republican President? Part I

A Four-Quadrant Analysis

Transpartisan Note #58

by A. Lawrence Chickering and James S. Turner

Theodore R. Johnson

Why the next black president could be a Republican’, an August 4 Washington Post article by political scientist Theodore R. Johnson [1] poses a provocative political question.  Could a black conservative soon become President of the United States?

Citing studies showing ideology now trumps race in politics; pointing out that black Republican candidates are often more conservative than their white opponents; and noting efforts to suppress black votes, Johnson concludes it is possible a black conservative President could win election.

Johnson states the common view: Democrats and ‘progressives’ are light years ahead of Republicans and ‘conservatives’ in appealing to blacks.  While this may be true on the linear left-right spectrum, it fails to distinguish the ‘freedom’ and ‘order’ themes that both hide conservative strengths and progressive weaknesses for black voters.

In the current issue of The Transpartisan Review, we explore why voters are turning away from both of the major political parties.  We start this exploration with the numbers.  President Trump is commonly thought to have won 46 percent of the popular vote in the last election (48% for Hillary).

However these numbers only count people who voted.  If you count age-eligible citizens who did not vote for either or who did not bother to register and opted out, Trump’s active base of supporters shrinks to only 27% (compared to Hillary’s 28%, with Obama about the same).

This means that only about one-quarter of citizens actively supported either candidate.  Each lost the support of nearly three-quarters of eligible voters.  This puts into context reports that only 25% of people now support Trump—as if his support is declining.

In fact, current poll numbers align closely with an accurate reading of the election results.  That a White House occupant’s numbers are higher than the personal numbers supporting the occupant often reflect allegiance to the office rather than the person.

We think many of the three-quarters (including registered independents who voted for Trump or Hilary) are transpartisans.  We believe observers misunderstand all voter (and potential voter) behavior because the simple left-right spectrum greatly oversimplifies what people seek from voting and not voting.

Our Matrix addresses this problem by distinguishing two values on both the left and right that everyone wants: freedom and order.  Using the Matrix, interesting possibilities, like white conservatives voting for black candidates, appear when imagining how people might respond if candidates started combining different quadrant values.

Far from integrating values in conflict—whether between the parties or within them—the current binary (either-or) system pushes partisans to the extremes of their positions and drives transpartisans away from voting.  The process thus creates perfect, mythic images of the darkness in each position [2] because order (justice) without freedom is authoritarianism (repression), and freedom without order is anarchy or greed (chaos).

In our next Note, we use the Matrix to illustrate the conflicts within each side.  We think this exploration reveals interesting insights about the continuing struggles Republicans have attracting and progressives have satisfying black voters.


[1] Theodore R. Johnson is a Fellow of New America and an adjunct Professor at Georgetown’s McCourt School of Public Policy.

[2] Lawry believes this generalization best fits the right and the Republicans.  Jim sees the same forces operating on the left and among the Democrats.  We have persuaded each other that both views are accurate.

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