Among the cynical journos whose tweets I had the distinct displeasure of reading that night, there was a derisive, sneering tone toward Davis, with many observing that the former Alabama congressman, an African American raised by a single mother, was unlikely to sway black voters.
What the critics failed to understand is that Davis’s address … was not about making an ethnic or regional appeal. Rather, he served as a stand-in for a kind of upwardly mobile, aspirational voter you’ll find in many American communities. Davis was raised in humble circumstances in West Montgomery, Alabama. But he also attended Harvard College and Harvard Law School, where he proved an academic success. He later returned to Alabama to serve as a prosecutor. In those years, he embraced the moderate wing of the Democratic Party, and in particular the pragmatic centrism of Bill Clinton. Unlike most elite-educated professionals of his vintage, he didn’t embrace a hard-edged social liberalism. He tried to find ways to reconcile left and right and white and black, and he saw Clinton’s message of hope, growth and opportunity as the right way to do it.
Now, however, having served as a Democrat in Congress under President Obama, and having lost a bruising, ideologically charged Democratic gubernatorial primary in his home state, Davis has changed teams. Not surprisingly, his erstwhile allies have been notably unkind. Once feted as the new face of black Democratic politics and as the “Alabama Obama,” various fair-weather friends have condemned him as an opportunist.
The simple truth is that as the Obama years wore on, Davis found himself agreeing more and more with right-of-center figures like Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush. Their tough-minded, whatever-works pragmatism resonated with his experiences, while the Obama administration’s highly ideological approach did not. Davis anticipates, in his words, “the rise of a reform-oriented center-right that is bent on restoring accountability and market principles to public systems” over the next decade.