A Look Inside the Mind of a Black Republican - OZY | A Modern Media Company

A Look Inside the Mind of a Black Republican

A Look Inside the Mind of a Black Republican

By Isabelle Lee


Because he could be the future of the Republican Party.

By Isabelle Lee

He was born in Brooklyn. Now he represents Florida in the U.S. House of Representatives. What’s more, Congressman Byron Donalds is Black, Republican, and Trump even called him a rising star of the Republican Party. Join Carlos on The Carlos Watson Show this week as he sits down with the newly elected 42-year-old to discuss his controversial take on Trump, why he chose the Republican Party and whether he agrees with Black Lives Matter. You can find excerpts below or listen to the full interview on the show’s podcast feed.

Why the Republican Party?

Carlos Watson: How did you get into politics in the first place? Were your parents into politics? Did they run for office?

Rep. Byron Donalds: My family was apolitical. We didn’t talk about politics. Never cared about it. When I was in high school, I didn’t care about it. When I was in college, I didn’t care about it. It really came out of the financial collapse back in ’08. My degree is in finance, and so I was working in insurance at the time, and we were trying to figure out what was going on with the financial collapse because our clients were international. And so I was tasked with having to do the research, and when I was doing the research, I was going through it, and then I turned on.

The House Financial Services Committee appeared in D.C., and the members were asking questions that had nothing to do with what was actually going on … the things that I was seeing in my research. And I mean, now looking back, committees can be highly political, but at the time it pissed me off. I’m 29 years old, we see this albatross of a recession coming our way, and up here, people are pointing fingers. And frankly, it made me mad, and it had me start to pay attention to politics for the first time.

Watson: So you’re 29, you’re watching, you’re getting frustrated, you think that there’s a disconnect, but that doesn’t immediately lead people to run for office. So how did you end up running for office, much less winning as a relatively young man?

Donalds: So what happened from there is I started doing a lot of just my own research, reading about political philosophy. I never really liked cable news. Cable news to me was just very surface. And so I started reading John Locke and Montesquieu. I read a book called The Law by Frédéric Bastiat, which is actually a great primer about what the law is supposed to be. It kind of gets away from Republicans, Democrats, and it gets into the purpose of the law. This is now late 2009, early 2010. The Tea Party rallies are starting to pop up, and on the news, they were racist because of President Obama being in the White House. And so my mom, she always taught me, “You don’t believe what people say. You go see for yourself and make a decision.”

So I went to one, and when I got out there, the people were actually really gracious to me. They actually wanted to meet me. A lot of the things that they cared about, I cared about. I wasn’t for bailouts. I was actually for having a very clearly defined rule of law, following the Constitution. So I got involved in the Tea Party movement from there. I got on Herman Cain’s presidential campaign in my county back in Florida. And so when his campaign ended, the people on the campaign asked me to run for Congress, because our congressional seat came open. And this was 2012.

So I got in. I ran in 2012. The same seat I represent now. I lost that campaign obviously, but what I learned in that process, really, was that I actually belonged. I stayed involved from there, ran for the statehouse in 2016, and then I came back and ran for Congress in 2020. 

Batting for Trump

Watson: Let me talk to you a little bit about former President Trump because you embraced him enthusiastically. Obviously, a lot of Black people haven’t felt that way, although he did grow his percentage of the Black vote in 2020. How did you think about that? Did you have any hesitation with him on racial issues, whether you thought about Charlottesville or the Proud Boys or some of the other stuff? 

Donalds: No, not really. And I think it’s important because when you actually dig into the policies that we’re moving through his administration, I mean, the one that gets talked about the most is the First Step Act, criminal justice reform act that he put forward under his administration, working with Sen. Tim Scott. We’re actually working with a lot of the other members of the Congressional Black Caucus. Even though they weren’t expressly supportive of it, they did have input on that bill. I think if you take a step back and look at things where he did, continued funding for HBCUs and stuff like that, it was clear that the president was really trying to make sure that he was putting in the policies that could be helpful for all Americans. I think when it comes to the president, when he speaks to people, he’s very abrasive and he’s very up-front and he’s very outspoken, and that doesn’t always sit well with everybody. But when you look at the actions, the things that he was actually doing, it was actually helping a lot of communities.

Look, when it comes to politics, every Republican president is the worst thing for Democrats and every Democrat president is the worst thing for Republicans. And so I’m a conservative. And so a lot of his political philosophies, a lot of his policies lined up with the things I believe and the way I think the country should be working. When you look at tax reform under his administration, it’s without question a boon not only to corporate America, but to all of America. Because you had the highest formations, the highest levels of wealth for Black Americans, for Hispanic Americans.

Homeownership levels were at [an] all-time high. People were actually really formulating wealth under the economic policies that the president brought in place. And I think the last part that people sometimes get away from is that if you go back to that audio with Charlottesville, if you go back and actually watched the video, it was actually a 17-minute press conference. The president, for the first 15 minutes, was actually describing in detail everything that happened in Charlottesville, how he actually denounced the violence. He denounced the Klan. He denounced the white supremacists.

And the media, it was very different than how they treat President Biden. They just kept pawing and pawing and pawing at him. And it’s around minute 15 where he basically starts to just get upset and is like, “Listen, I’ve already described to you everything that’s in that video. I know what’s in the video more than what you know that’s in the video.” 

Watson: But Congressman, if someone were to push back on you on that and say, ” You do have more control than that. And not only do you have more control, but you have more responsibility.” Especially if you’re the president of the United States, which we haven’t had very many in the history of the republic. And that if you’ve got white supremacists gathering and saying things and doing things that are harmful, that are despicable, that doing anything but clearly denouncing them and really clear things … simply saying “I don’t control them” is not enough when you’re the president of the United States. How do you hear that?

Donalds: It is very clear that if you go back and watch any presser that the president has done in its totality, he’s very clearly actually denounced white supremacy on more than 10 occasions. He’s very clearly done it. One of the members of my staff worked in the White House. He’s a Black man just like me. And he has said it very clear: “The president has continuously done this, but the media chooses not to cover it.” And so then it creates the narrative that is the case today. That’s the only point I’m making. If we’re asking for him to denounce it, I’m saying he has. And the video evidence is there.

What’s His Stance on Black Lives Matter?

Watson: Sorry, Congressman, just so I make sure I understand you clearly, you do think that we have a meaningful … forgive me, let me try it again: You do think that we have a meaningful problem with officers shooting unarmed Black people, period, that it’s not just a bad apple — but as the new police chief in Miami told me, it’s a bushel of bad apples — you do believe that, or you don’t? Do you believe that there is a systemic meaningful problem that requires a systemic solution?

Donalds: No, no, no, no, no, I do not believe it’s a systemic problem. I think it is a problem, and I think it’s a problem that could be resolved with proper training, and that’s where I think we got to go with this. This is very delicate, and it’s a tough subject because we have to be very clear, the vast majority of police officers in our communities serve our communities with honor and distinction, the vast majority. We do have bad apples in all police forces; we have bad apples everywhere, that’s kind of the nature of things, and I don’t want to diminish the point we’re talking about here. But it’s important to understand that our officers in the line of duty — most serve with honor and distinction.

Do we need better training in a lot of departments? Yes, we do … that I fully support. What I’m saying is that we can’t now go down the rabbit hole and say that no, we need to pull officers off the streets because that will make our community safer, because that is not true. And the initial data from some cities that did go down the line of defunding police, we’ve already seen that crime rates have shot up in those communities. I believe there was a city in California, I can’t remember which one, that actually went back in to refund their police department based upon the data that they received.

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