'I talk about power because you're not supposed to': Why Stacey Abrams still wants to be president

Jon Ward
Senior Political Correspondent

Stacey Abrams ran for governor of Georgia last year and lost, but she hasn’t put a lid on her ambition, telling Yahoo News that she still plans to run for president in the future, even though she passed on doing so in 2020.

Abrams didn’t get into the specifics of when she might run, but as she did in 2017 — when she first told a reporter she wanted to be president in the future — Abrams is stating her ambitions plainly and openly.

“I’m in a place where I'm comfortable with my declarations, and part of my responsibility is to create that comfort for others. And that means declaring what I want, which is to one day be president of the United States, but not at this moment,” Abrams said in an interview on “The Long Game,” a Yahoo News podcast.

It’s part of the 45-year-old Democrat’s unique approach to politics, one that has elevated her into a sought-after and powerful voice on the left, and one of the most prominent African-American women in the country. She announced in August she would forgo a run in 2020, but is still a potential running mate to the eventual Democratic nominee, and is meanwhile speaking out about voter suppression and running an organization focused on stopping it.

Abrams stands out because she does a few things that often aren’t found in combination: She thinks exhaustively about her core principles and her big decisions; is disciplined and strategic; is willing to take big risks and talks openly about her reasons for doing so.

That goes for her decision to run for governor in a deep-red state in the first place, as well as her decision to not concede the race to Republican Brian Kemp, even as she acknowledged he was the legal winner and that “the law currently allows no further viable remedy,” as she said last fall.

It goes for her willingness to talk about the fact that she has mapped out her life goals in an Excel spreadsheet since she was in college.

And it goes for her decision to talk openly about wanting to be president. It’s part of her mission to create new archetypes for women of color and other minorities, who she said are often conditioned to think they shouldn’t have lofty ambitions and often shrink back.

Stacey Abrams (Photo illustration: Yahoo News; photos: AP [2], Getty Images)

“Boldness is about being declarative of your intent, but also being confident about your right to have that intent. And those are the two pieces that are often missing for communities that are on the margins or on the outside,” Abrams told Yahoo News.

“I talk about power because you’re not supposed to. And I talk about it intentionally because people cannot see what’s possible usually unless there’s some example of it,” she said.

Abrams said there have been few “actual direct examples” for her to look up to in her own life. “And so I’ve spent my life trying to create these examples and exemplars of behavior,” she said.

In her 2018 book “Lead From the Outside,” Abrams described her decision to talk publicly about her ambition to be president, in a 2017 interview with Cosmopolitan magazine.

“Politics 101 says never admit to wanting to be president,” Abrams wrote. “In my orbit, folks flinched in dismay at my bold honesty.”

Why would you say that?” her own allies asked her.

“I had indeed hesitated about answering,” she wrote. “I could pivot, redirect. ... Or I could be forthright, cutting through the code of silence that held women and people of color back from staking a claim on simply the right to think about running for our nation’s highest post.”

Yet despite stating her intent openly, Abrams was often overshadowed in the 2018 national political conversation — even among Democrats and progressives — by Beto O’Rourke, a congressman who ran for the U.S. Senate in Texas against Sen. Ted Cruz, and also lost. Part of the reason that celebrities like Beyoncé and LeBron James took notice of O’Rourke was that he was running against Cruz, who is uniquely reviled by Democrats, and even some Republicans.

But there was also an unmistakable contrast between Abrams — a single black woman — and O’Rourke, a married white man with children, that led some to conclude that many people still “tacitly view women and people of color as having less potential or being less ‘presidential,’” as Democratic strategist Teddy Goff put it.

This is a big part of why Abrams talks — and writes in her book — about the “pursuit of ... power” in a way that few public figures are comfortable acknowledging so plainly.

“I have learned how to seize opportunity, how to plan for victory and defeat, and how to acquire, hold, and wield power,” she wrote. The entire book, in fact, is a guide to “understand and master the components of power.”

And what does Abrams say motivates her to pursue power? “I am driven by a bitter hatred of poverty,” she wrote, “and the lack of mobility that keeps families in endless cycles of wasted ability.”

“My mission is to tackle poverty,” she wrote. “The governor of Georgia can do much to address the issue in my home state; imagine what successful, proven policies can do on a national level. The only job I know of with that kind of reach is the president of the United States, the hardest job in the world to get. ... So, if I want to accomplish my mission, I need to be thinking about how to get that post.”


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