How Obama can win back millions of Trump voters for Biden

How Obama can win back millions of Trump voters for Biden
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Many Democrats have written off Trump voters as hopelessly irredeemable bigots. Yet even as Joe BidenJoe BidenTrump endorses Ken Paxton over George P. Bush in Texas attorney general race GOP lawmakers request Cuba meeting with Biden For families, sending money home to Cuba shouldn't be a political football MORE’s electoral prospects improve, Democrats alienate wavering Trump supporters at great peril.

With Obama-Trump swing voters accounting for more than two-thirds – nearly 70 percent – of the reason that Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonA path to climate, economic and environmental justice is finally on the horizon Polling misfired in 2020 — and that's a lesson for journalists and pundits Biden flexes presidential muscle on campaign trail with Virginia's McAuliffe MORE lost the 2016 election, painting all Trump voters as deplorable racists is strikingly short-sighted. Far worse, such a divisive approach will not result in the landslide Biden victory necessary to avoid a disturbingly plausible constitutional crisis in November.

Here is where President Obama can make an enormous difference. By pursuing a data-driven, middle-of-the-road narrative amid historic racial and social turmoil, Obama is uniquely suited to win back broad swathes of Trump voters, many of whom are undoubtedly disaffected by the president’s disastrous mishandling of twin national crises.


Obama is a staunch centrist on racial and social issues. He heaped unrelenting criticism on the divisive, uncompromising rhetoric that “woke” millennials consider activism. He ripped into “coddled” college students desperately seeking to be “protected from different points of view.” And he has spoken passionately about absent African-American fathers on several occasions.

Moreover, as America’s first black president, Obama is singularly positioned to speak out on police reform amid explosive tensions in the wake of George Floyd’s killing. By pulling a page from his 2008 playbook, President Obama has a unique opportunity to win conservative hearts and minds while catalyzing meaningful police reform.

The media and many activists have portrayed Floyd’s death as the latest in a long, despicable string of killings of African-American men by police. On the other hand, many conservatives and – critically – much of the law enforcement community have disputed the notion of systemic racism in police shootings.

As it turns out, several robust datasets contradict the notion of anti-black racial bias in police killings. In fact, the data suggest the opposite: White Americans are killed by police far more frequently than African-Americans. This is true in aggregate – as would be expected based on population ratios – but also relative to each group’s contribution to violent crime, which is directly related to frequency of contact with law enforcement. In fact, African-Americans make up roughly a quarter of fatalities in police shootings, despite accounting for a far higher proportion of many violent crimes.

This trend holds true regardless of whether the civilian is armed or unarmed.


Of equal importance, Harvard economist Roland Fryer found that black and Hispanic police officers are no more or less likely than their white counterparts to use force against African-American citizens. Subsequent academic research confirmed Fryer’s findings.

Moreover, an investigation by the Obama Department of Justice – using an admittedly limited data set – found that white Philadelphia police officers were less likely than Hispanic or black officers to inappropriately use force against African-Americans.

The Obama Department of Justice (DOJ) also investigated the 2014 shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., which sparked mass demonstrations and sent shockwaves around the world. The review found that no fewer than seven African-American and biracial witnesses considered the officer’s actions an appropriate act of self-defense; one young woman even stated that she “would have fired sooner” had she been in the officer’s shoes. The Obama DOJ found that no witnesses could credibly corroborate the “Hands up, don’t shoot” narrative that emerged in the wake of Brown’s death.

To be sure, these realities cannot and must not detract from clear-cut cases of murder – of black or white citizens – by police. Nor should they detract from very real issues of racial profiling, department-level bias, systemic inequality, decades of deeply ingrained mistrust, egregious use of unnecessary force, police unions that keep bad officers on the job and a litany of other abuses by law enforcement.

But any efforts to achieve meaningful reform must be grounded in facts and data. After all, an incorrect diagnosis rarely cures the underlying condition.

Perhaps more importantly, inaccurate narratives of systemic racism in police shootings alienate the rank-and-file police officers whose good faith buy-in is vital to making reforms stick and achieving true accountability.

By accurately framing the data around fatal police shootings, President Obama has a golden opportunity to de-escalate a highly charged national atmosphere and engender transformational changes to policing in America by making reform a national - versus a racial - issue.

Obama’s fidelity to the facts will also win over many of those critical Obama-Trump conservatives and independents who are – rightly – outraged by the Trump administration’s unconscionable abuses, deadly incompetence and flagrant corruption.

As the old political adage goes, “Only Nixon could go to China.” A similar dynamic is at play today. At a time of profound racial and social tension, President Obama is uniquely suited to pursue a rational, centrist approach that lowers the national temperature, engenders meaningful reform and makes the case to broad swathes of disaffected Trump voters that there is a better path forward.

Marik von Rennenkampff served as an analyst with the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation, as well as an Obama administration appointee at the U.S. Department of Defense. Follow him on Twitter @MvonRen.