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Obama says Democrats' 'defund the police' agenda contributed to surprise losses in 2020

The former president says snappy slogans as ultimately shortsighted.

December 2, 2020 7:52am

Updated: December 2, 2020 2:45pm

Former President Obama said Wednesday that Democrats' 2020 political message to "defund" police departments across the country has eroded support for the party.

"You lost a big audience the minute you say it, which makes it a lot less likely that you're actually going to get the changes you want done," Obama said in an interview with Snapchat's "Good Luck America" program.

The comment was part of a broader discussion in which Obama decried elected officials' overall use of "snappy" political slogans, including the one to defund police departments.

"The key is deciding, do you want to actually get something done, or do you want to feel good among the people you already agree with?" Obama said.

The defund movement emerged after the May 25 death of George Floyd while in Minneapolis police custody. 

Several leaders of the Democratic party have come out in recent months to voice similar sentiments about the slogan. House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) said last month that he believes the slogan ultimately hurt the reelection bids of some Democratic candidates during the November election.

Virginia Democratic Rep. Abigail Spanberger, who narrowly won reelection last month, made similar comments in the post-election conference call for the Democratic House Conference.

"The number one concern in things that people brought to me in my [district] that I barely re-won, was defunding the police," she said, according to reporters who listened to the call. "We are supposed to talk about things in the way where we mean what we're talking about. If we don't mean we should defund the police, we shouldn't say that."

Democrats, who control the House, have lost at least 10 seats in the chamber, after expressing confidence about adding to their 2018 wins, and they so far have failed to take control of the Senate, after expressing similar optimism ahead of the Nov. 3 elections. Two runoff races in Georgia next month will decide whether Republicans keep Senate control. 

Outspoken members of the Democratic progressive caucus, including Reps. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, enthusiastically back the "defund" movement. 

Democrat Joe Biden, Obama's former vice president, gave conflicting responses about the defund movement in his 2020 presidential campaign. He said he supports banning chokeholds and creating more channels of national oversight for police departments. 

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