Because the Democratic Party didn’t benefit from the blue wave that many expected on Election Day, some lawmakers and party leaders are suggesting Democrats need to distance themselves from the messaging and, perhaps, ideas surrounding one of the most popular issues with the party’s base. That could mean disappointing one of the groups that can take credit for Joe Biden’s victory: Black voters.

The president-elect’s victory can be attributed largely to the support of Black voters — a voting bloc that, while faithful in its support of the Democratic Party, turned out in incredibly high numbers in states that President Trump won in 2016. After not showing up four years ago at rates similar to the Obama era, turnout among Black voters in 2020 increased, and 87 percent of the bloc cast a ballot for Biden.

According to a Washington Post-Ipsos poll in June, Black voters considered racism and policing to be among their top issues heading into the election. At least 9 in 10 Black Americans said both racism and law enforcement’s treatment of Black Americans were important in how they voted. And roughly 7 in 10 Black adults said each of those issues is “one of the most important.” Given this and the widely held belief among Black Americans that Trump is a racist and on the wrong side of the police violence, Black voters overwhelmingly backed Biden.

Black voters have made it clear that they want a leader who takes police violence against Black people seriously. And a broader reformation of the criminal justice system is of high priority to these voters. And perhaps most fundamentally, they want to be led by a president who they do not believe is racist and who they don’t have to worry about defending white nationalists. From the earliest days of his campaign, Biden pledged to be that president and reemphasized that commitment to Black voters during his victory speech, noting “those moments when this campaign was at its lowest ebb, the African American community stood up again for me.”

“You’ve always had my back, and I’ll have yours,” he said.

Taylor Crumpton wrote about the influence that Black women in particular had in the election results for The Post:

Without our support, the president-elect would be preparing a powerful speech about how despite his defeat, the nation needs to stand together as a united people to blunt the effects of President Trump’s white supremacist reign. Instead, thanks to wins powered largely by the turnout in places like Detroit, Atlanta, Milwaukee and Philadelphia, Biden and the first Black woman to serve as vice president, Kamala D. Harris, are preparing to take office.

While Democratic lawmakers expressed joy that they regained the White House, they also expressed some concern that embracing controversial language may have cost them seats in the House of Representatives and prevented them from winning clear control of the Senate, where the balance of power awaits two runoff elections in Georgia.

I previously wrote that the “Defund the Police” movement gained steam on the left following protests over the death of George Floyd, a Black man who died in May in Minneapolis after a White police officer pinned Floyd to the ground with his knee on his neck for roughly eight minutes. Supporters of “Defund the Police” think police officers are systemically encouraged to react violently to nonviolent people and that the resources spent funding those behaviors would be better spent elsewhere.

After some looting and vandalism occurred amid protests, Trump and the GOP characterized the predominantly peaceful march participants as violent, anarchist thugs who wanted to rid American society of law enforcement. This became part of his campaign stump speech to sway voters, and while he lost his reelection bid, some Democrats believe his rhetoric contributed to the party’s congressional losses.

House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.) — the most powerful Black lawmaker in Congress — suggested this week on CNN that maybe the party should walk away from the messaging behind “Defund the Police,” arguing that retaining controversial messaging could block liberals from receiving the gains that they really desire:

John Lewis and I were co — were founders of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. John and I sat on the House floor and talked about that defund the police slogan, and both of us concluded that it had the possibilities of doing to the Black Lives Matter movement and current movements across the country what “Burn, baby, burn” did to us back in 1960. We lost that movement over that slogan. And a lot of people don’t realize it, but John Lewis walked across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in February 1965. A year later, we got the Voting Rights Act out of that, six months later. And it wasn’t a year after that that John Lewis was ousted as chair of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. And so we saw the same thing happening here. So, I spoke about against the sloganeering. And I feel very strongly we can’t pick up these things just because it makes a good headline. It sometimes destroys headway. We need to work on what makes headway, rather than what makes headlines.

And Biden, seemingly aware of how the “Defund the Police” slogan — and possibly idea — would sit with many of the voters he needed to win, never embraced the movement and instead would say he wanted to reform, not abolish, law enforcement.

However, support for activists protesting police violence against Black people is significant for most Americans, according to polling. And the party’s most liberal voices, including young Black voters, who were initially skeptical of Biden, may be too loud to drown out — and that’s not a bad thing, says Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.).

The first-term lawmaker, who won reelection, told the New York Times that Democrats distancing themselves from one of the issues that polling shows is popular with many Black voters, especially those of the next generation, would be telling in terms of how the party will prioritize the concerns of Black voters going forward.

I think it’s going to be really important how the party deals with this internally, and whether the party is going to be honest about doing a real post-mortem and actually digging into why they lost. Because before we even had any data yet in a lot of these races, there was already finger-pointing that this was progressives’ fault and that this was the fault of the Movement for Black Lives.
If I lost my election, and I went out and I said: “This is moderates’ fault. This is because you didn’t let us have a floor vote on Medicare for all.” And they opened the hood on my campaign, and they found that I only spent $5,000 on TV ads the week before the election? They would laugh. And that’s what they look like right now trying to blame the Movement for Black Lives for their loss.

In her victory speech, Vice President-elect Kamala D. Harris, the first Black person elected to hold that office, acknowledged the work of anti-racism activists.

“For four years, you marched and organized for equality and justice, for our lives, and for our planet,” she said. “And then, you voted. And you delivered a clear message. You chose hope and unity, decency, science and, yes, truth.”

The choices of the early days of the Biden presidency could provide some perspective on what the relationship will be between the new administration and the Black voters who are looking to the president-elect and the vice president-elect to take the country in a new direction.

One of the key issues is likely to be the relationship between law enforcement and Black Americans. However, how Biden will be able to accomplish much of what Black voters want without control of the Senate is not yet clear, and Republican lawmakers’ response to Trump’s unwillingness to concede the election suggests they are more interested in retaining Trump supporters than working with Biden to carry out his agenda.

If Biden meets roadblocks, it could be one of his most loyal voting blocs that suffers most in the realm of unfulfilled hopes and unmet expectations.

Biden has pledged to be the president of all Americans — and the reality is that many Americans want him to approach concerns about police violence differently than Trump. How his administration responds could provide some answers to concerns of Black voters that the Democratic Party is always ready to take their votes but not fully address their issues.