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Trump campaign launches appeal to Black voters; will it work?

By Leandra Bernstein, WJLA

President Donald Trump launched the Black Voices for Trump Coalition from Atlanta Friday, in an appeal to African Americans voters ahead of the 2020 election.

The president’s campaign is attempting to expand a historically small portion of the electorate, Black Republican voters. In the midterm elections, only 8% of Black voters identify in some way with the Republican Party, according to the Pew Research Center. That number tracks directly with the 2016 exit polls, where Trump received exactly 8% of the African American vote, compared with Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton’s 89%.

In his speech to supporters, Trump asserted that the tide is turning and African American voters are returning to the Republican Party. “You’re coming back in record numbers,” he said to the audience.

Public polling does not support the president’s assertion, which partly explains the push for greater engagement. “We’re going to travel across the country to every community—urban, rural and suburban—and we’re going to campaign for every last African American vote,” Trump promised.

In his hourlong speech, the president touted unemployment numbers among African Americans, which declined from 7.7% when he took office to 5.4% last month and cited the lowest poverty rates among that demographic in the country’s history. He pitched his administration’s multibillion-dollar investments in underserved communities, the creation of 9,000 opportunity zones and an $8 billion program to assist minority-owned businesses and contrasted his policies against what he portrayed as the Democratic Party’s record of “suffering and neglect.”

Recalling his 2016 appeal—when he asked: “What the hell do you have to lose?”—Trump argued that Black voters had gotten into the “habit” of voting for Democrats. “It’s amazing you’ve stayed so long, to be honest,” he said.

“They want your vote. They’re nice to you just before the election and then they forget about you for four years or two years or six years,” Trump said. “The betrayal of the Black community is incredible.”

Despite claims of a surge of support for Trump, the president’s prospects do not look good based on recent polls. A Hill-HarrisX poll last month found that 85% of Black voters said they would rather choose any Democratic presidential candidate over President Trump. Those numbers included 98% of Black voters who identified as Democrats and 72% of independents.

Trump also has a much bigger problem related to his rhetoric around race, which has fueled the perception among the electorate generally and Black voters in particular that the president is racist. A Quinnipiac poll from July found an overwhelming 80% of Black voters said they believe President Trump is racist. Overall, 51% of voters from across demographic and political lines gave the same response.

Some of the president’s supporters have suggested the poor polling numbers are the result of social pressures and the prevailing sentiment that the Democratic Party best serves the interests of African Americans. Housing Secretary Ben Carson opened the event in Atlanta Friday by applauding the “courage” of the black audience members to attend a pro-Trump rally. “Today they say if you’re a conservative then somehow you’re an Uncle Tom, you’re a horrible person, you’re a demon,” Carson said. “It’s time to put a stop to it.”

In the scheme of things, Trump’s support among African Americans has been about on par with previous Republican presidents and presidential candidates. Over the past three decades, African Americans have accounted for 10-12% of the voting electorate.

According to exit polls archived by the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research, Republican presidential candidates typically earn 10% of the black vote, with some variation. The number was far less in 2008 and 2012 when the country’s first African American President Barack Obama was on the ballot.

  • 2016: Donald Trump 8%; Hillary Clinton 89%
  • 2012: Mitt Romney 6%; Barack Obama 93%
  • 2008: John McCain 4%; Barack Obama 95%
  • 2004: George W. Bush 11%; John Kerry 88%
  • 2000: George W. Bush 9%; Al Gore 90%
  • 1996: Bob Dole 12%; Bill Clinton 84%; Ross Perot (Independent) 4%
  • 1992: George H.W. Bush 10%; Bill Clinton 83%, Ross Perot (Independent) 7%
  • 1988: George H. W. Bush 11%; Michael Dukakis 89%
  • 1984: Ronald Reagan 9%; Walter Mondale 91%
  • 1980: Ronald Reagan 14%; Jimmy Carter 83%
  • 1976: Gerald Ford 17%; Jimmy Carter 83%

Even with Democrats typically winning the lion’s share of the black vote, officials with the Trump campaign suggested that the outreach effort could make the president competitive.

“I think the launch of the Black Voices Coalition tells the Democrats: game on,” said Paris Dennard a Trump 2020 advisory board member.

Specifically, the coalition will focus on engagement on the campaign trail and on social media and amplifying the voices of Trump’s African American supporters. There is also a tacit acknowledgment that the Trump campaign has to step up its efforts from 2016. “In terms of what’s going to be done differently, I hope to see the campaign and the RNC [Republican National Committee] go to different venues and different more diverse opportunities to speak,” said Dennard. As an example, the campaign sent campaign senior adviser Katrina Pierson to the REVOLT Summit, a massive hip-hop event in Atlanta, as part of the president’s reelection outreach.

Dennard, who served as the White House black outreach directed under George W. Bush, said the coalition’s message would focus on what the Trump has achieved in his first term. “It’s a promises made, promises kept argument,” Dennard said. He cited low unemployment, the administration’s $100 billion investment in opportunity zones and passage of bipartisan criminal justice reform. “The president has done a lot for the Black community and he doesn’t get the credit he deserves,” Dennard said.

According to Joel Payne, a political commentator and former Democratic staffer, President Trump is going to need more than good job numbers to win votes in 2020.

“I think African American voters are looking for a lot in terms of presidential leadership,” explained Payne. “While there are certainly some positive economic signs to point to… I think African Americans are also dismayed by some of the moral leadership we’ve seen out of this White House.”

Trump has repeatedly been accused of fomenting racial divisions, from his equivocating comments about white nationalist protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia to attacking African American members of Congress. In July, the president was formally condemned by the House of Representatives for “racist comments” about sending congresswomen of color “back” to their supposed countries of origin.

“I think the challenge a lot of African Americans have with President Trump is that they don’t trust that he actually has their best interests at heart,” said Payne. “It’s great to have an initiative that you launch, but more important than an initiative is an everyday commitment to those issues.”

Trump’s speech in Atlanta Friday attempted to highlight specific benefits to the African American community from his administration’s policies, but that message does not appear to be resonating beyond his base of supporters. The Associated Press-NORC released a poll recently showing just 4% of Black voters think Trump’s actions have been good for African Americans. An overwhelming 81% think Trump has made things worse.

It’s not clear if the Trump campaign will be able to reverse that sentiment with an election-year outreach campaign. It’s also not clear if the Black Voices Coalition is necessarily aimed at recruiting Black voters.

The president’s pitch “hasn’t been particularly effective to date” with Black voters, noted Corey Fields, the Idol Family Term Chair in Sociology at Georgetown University and author of “Black Elephants in the Room: The Unexpected Politics of African American Republican.”

“It’s not clear if there’s going to be a big move in terms of increasing support among Black voters. But it’s possible these efforts might be more effective with convincing white voters that the charges of racism are unfounded,” Fields said, indicating that is the more likely outcome. “It won’t have much of an effect on Black voters but it might have an effect on white voters.”

This article originally appeared on WJLA.

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