Last week, GOP operatives gloated over the defection of Artur Davis, a former Democratic member of Congress and one-time Obama supporter who announced that he had become a Republican. The GOP had every right to cheer. In making his announcement, Davis posted an online spiel that came right out of the Republican playbook.
It was more sophisticated than the late-career rants of one-time Democrat Zell Miller, who spent his last years in the U.S. Senate lambasting Democratic pols whom he had previously praised. But Davis’ charges were nevertheless familiar: Democrats play “identity politics,” would “punish businesses and job creators,” and have violated religious freedoms. He imitates the GOP lingo perfectly.
I wish Davis well, but I doubt he’ll find the redemption and acceptance he seeks in his new political home. If the Republican Party has tossed aside the likes of former senators Bob Bennett and Dick Lugar and former S.C. Congressman Bob Inglis — all sturdy conservatives who were defeated in primaries or caucuses because they weren’t conservative enough — it’s unlikely the party will have much use for a pol who admits he’s a middle-of-the-roader.
Don’t be fooled by the cliched announcement. Davis defected for all the wrong reasons. He left the Democrats out of personal pique — a feeling of rejection left by his humiliating loss in the Alabama Democratic primary for governor.
For seven years, Davis was a rising star in Democratic circles, a bright and promising member of Congress, a well-educated representative of the post-civil-rights era of black leadership. Elected to Congress in 2002, he defeated 10-year incumbent Earl Hilliard, whose many ethical lapses and support of Middle Eastern tyrants had made him an embarrassment.
But Davis — who is nothing if not ambitious — made a serious misjudgment in 2010, forfeiting his secure post as representative of Alabama’s 7th Congressional District to run for governor of that state. As a black Democrat, he would never have been elected to the helm of one of the most conservative states in the union, but he was widely expected to win the nomination.
That was before Davis fell prey to an unfortunate fallacy about moderation and bucked President Obama’s health care plan. Though Alabama, my home state, has one of the nation’s highest rates of uninsured, Davis refused to support the health care plan.
He insisted that his opposition was principled, but it always smacked of political considerations. He seemed to believe that his opposition to health care reform would cement his stature as a moderate and win him the general election. He forgot that he had to win the primary first.