Byron Donalds, the incoming congressman from Florida’s 19th Congressional District, credits President Trump’s gains with Black voters to his “swag” and said Republican House members will need to channel that attitude to effectively take on the House Democratic Squad.
Trump made inroads with the Black community not just because of pre-coronavirus economic gains, but also because of his confident nature, Donalds said.
“In the Black community, swag is a factor,” Donalds told Fox News. “Love him or hate him, the man’s got swag. He knows what he wants. He doesn’t apologize for it. And he’s going to go get it.”
Donalds, in Washington for congressional orientation, said he’s looking forward to offering a countervailing argument to Democratic socialism championed by the Squad and its prominent member, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., who has garnered political star power thanks, in part, to her outspokenness and social media following.
He mused that a GOP counter group should have a cool name, like Voltron or the Thundercats — a nod to the action figures — but first, he needs to see if his fellow Republicans could pull it off.
“I gotta see if my colleagues have enough swag to do that,” Donalds quipped. “I love my colleagues, but you know swag is the thing. If you want to have, you know, credibility in the street. You got to be able to walk the walk.”
Donalds, 42, has experience with charting his own path.
Raised in inner-city Brooklyn by a single mom, Donalds moved to Florida to attend Florida State University and to start a career in financial services and commercial banking. He won his southwest Florida district running as a pro-Trump conservative who touted his faith and family for getting him on the right path.
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“I’m everything the fake news media tells you doesn’t exist: a strong Trump-supporting, gun-owning, liberty-loving, pro-life, politically incorrect Black man,” Donalds says in one campaign ad.
Donalds might be the only Black Republican in the entire House. But he’s hoping former NFL player Burgess Owens will join him once his race is called in Utah, where Owens is ahead of Democratic incumbent Rep. Ben McAdams.
“Two is better than one,” Donalds said. “… It shows Black America that there is room for us in both parties. And I think it’s important that Black America understands and realizes that.”
Donalds can relate to the burden on Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., as the only GOP Black senator who is often thrust into the spotlight to talk about race issues and Trump’s tweets.
“It is a burden,” Donalds said. “Post-election I felt the burden. Because it’s having to carry the mantle for a wave in political thought in our community which is not the dominant political thought. In some respects, you are being a pioneer. And so when you happen to step out there and stand, yeah, you feel the weight of that. And also the other part is if you screw it up — what does that do to all the people coming up behind you.”
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Donalds got his start in politics working on Herman Cain’s presidential campaign, inspired by the late Republican’s 9-9-9 tax plan. Shortly afterward, Donalds launched his first run for the 19th Congressional District seat but lost badly in the GOP primary in 2012.
He set his sights on Tallahassee and won a seat to the Florida House of Representatives where he served two terms. Donalds had a chance again at Congress when Rep. Francis Rooney, R-Fla., announced he wouldn’t seek reelection in 2020.
In the GOP primary, Donalds was in a tough field of eight other competitors and squeaked out a win by 774 votes. The general election in November was an easier victory over Democrat Cindy Banyai since the Fort Myers/Naples district is heavily Republican.
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Donalds said his humble upbringing in New York City is the best preparation for the halls of Congress.
“What prepared me for politics was actually growing up in the streets,” Donalds said. “You got to be able to assess everybody fast, make a quick decision. [And] you always have to watch your back.”