In what may just be the most starkly crass, absurdly dishonest moment of the 2016 campaign, Donald Trump is now proclaiming himself black America’s last and best hope.
“We’ll get rid of the crime,” Trump told an audience Monday in Akron, Ohio. “You’ll be able to walk down the street without getting shot” in inner cities, he continued. Now, he said, “When you walk down the street, you get shot.”
The election is not over yet, but make no mistake: Trump is in real trouble.
States that have not been in play in a decade or more, like Arizona and Georgia, have suddenly become battlegrounds. And with no discernible ground game and an undisciplined national messaging apparatus, the thrice-bankrupt real estate magnate has no meaningful way to recover.
Trump has calculated the likelihood that he will become the nation’s next commander in chief, and that number is somewhere in the ballpark of nil, zilch, and none. As he lumbers over scripted speeches, hires and fires senior campaign aides, and posts angry screeds on social media, the question isn’t if he will lose—but by how much.
Having refused invitations from the NAACP and National Association of Black Journalists, he also knows that he doesn’t stand a chance in hell of convincing more than a handful of black people to vote for him. Trump has never addressed a tough audience, and he isn’t about to start.
However, he also knows that his tense relationships with non-white sectors of the electorate are costing him support among one group that reliably votes for Republicans: suburban white women.
It is no small irony that now, after years of publicly deriding women and intoning some of the most hyper-misogynistic rhetoric ever heard in a modern-day election, Trump now needs women to save his proverbial hide. Specifically, he needs center-right, married white women.
“Alarm over Trump’s provocative policies and rhetoric also is costing him support among some white women who typically vote Republican,” wrote USA Today’s Susan Page. “White women without a college degree have backed GOP nominees by double-digits in each of the past three presidential elections,” Page notes. But in a Pew survey taken this summer Trump was leading among them by only three percentage points, 48-45 percent.
These women may be leery of Hillary Clinton’s scandal-plagued history, as polls indicate, but Trump has shown himself to be a brutish, unpredictable, and even dangerous choice. Perhaps even more critically, his penchant for racial and religious intolerance has all but destroyed his ability to grow Republican reach beyond what former nominees Mitt Romney and John McCain were able to muster.
In an attempt to lure right-leaning white female voters back into the fold, Trump launched a jaw-dropping, multi-city pander-fest designed to make himself more palatable. Taking to the podium last week, in city after city, the former reality star opened a head-scratching pitch to African-American voters: What the hell do you have to lose?
Much like his negligible understanding of foreign policy, his cartoonish view of black life appears to have been gleaned from watching the evening news. Trump, it seems, is more comfortable hawking fear and loathing than he would be immersing himself in the issues or, you know, actually meeting with and listening to black people.
In Akron, Trump was neither listening to nor talking to African Americans, writ large. He was talking to the rows of white people seated before him. But despite the applause inside the room as he emphasized the president’s full name—Barack Hussein Obama—Trump’s hamfisted approach was not well-received among most political prognosticators. How could it have been? Even his running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, laughed at Trump’s assertion that he could win 95 percent of the black vote in a re-election bid.
Pence knows better, and so do we.
Certainly, if one were truly interested in building a winning coalition that includes significant African-American support, one does not install a D-list reality star with no political experience to run outreach. And clearly one does not hire the chairman of a conspiratorial white nationalist website with a demonstrable record of disdain for black voters to be one’s campaign’s chief executive. As political strategists from sea to shining sea begin calling on the Republican National Committee to pull the plug and use their resources to support down-ballot races, Trump’s problem with non-white voters can’t get any worse.
On the campaign trail, Trump, who has touted “tremendous African-American support,” has spewed stereotypical bombast most common among those who have little real interest in attracting black voters. But by making his case in places like West Bend, Wisconsin, a town that is 94.8 percent white and just 1 percent black, Trump inadvertently called attention to the fact that—outside of a much ballyhooed, poorly attended meeting for black preachers hosted at Trump Tower—his campaign has not hosted a single event in a black church, barbershop, community center, or high school. In fact, in rally after rally, his supporters (and security guards) have displayed the kind of racial animus that might be more typical of a George Wallace road show.
“Look at how much African-American communities are suffering from Democratic control,” he told one audience. “To those I say the following: What do you have to lose by trying something new like Trump? What do you have to lose? You live in your poverty, your schools are no good, you have no jobs, 58 percent of your youth is unemployed. What the hell do you have to lose?”
Trump, who polls as low as 0 percent and 1 percent with black voters in some states, must know how he got here and that his barrel-scraping attempt to woo them was over well before it started.
Monday wasn’t the first time Trump uttered the president’s middle name as if it was synonymous with Beelzebub. Trump’s public record on black people and black issues is clear—from two Justice Department lawsuits over housing discrimination to challenging the legitimacy of the nation’s first black president.
Long before Trump was demanding to see President Obama’s long-form birth certificate and his college transcripts, the New Yorker placed a full-page ad calling for the execution of five innocent black teenagers accused in the brutal rape of a Central Park jogger. And when those sentences were vacated after the real perpetrator was identified, Trump called the multimillion-dollar financial settlement a disgrace. Tellingly, he had never hired a single black senior executive at the Trump Organization and, reportedly, his black employees had to be out of sight when he visited his casinos.
So, when Trump asks, “What the hell do you have to lose?” the answer is everything.
Trump’s closest advisers either do not understand the depth of the divide or they are lying. His surrogates pointed to how he integrated his south Florida resort Mar-a-Lago—a business-driven move that may have had an impact on 10 to 15 wealthy black families, at best—and one even said Trump was “on the cutting edge of civil rights.”
“They understand,” former House speaker Newt Gingrich said of Democrats, that “this is a mortal threat to their power and they will do almost anything to stop him.”
Gingrich, once a close confidant of Rep. Jack Kemp, has encouraged Trump to take his message to places like “inner-city Philadelphia,” claiming it could have “an amazing result.”
No, what is amazing is that Gingrich uttered this nonsense with a straight face.
The plain truth is the die has already been cast among African-American voters—across age, gender, income, and education. Maybe Gingrich likes seeing himself on television, but the notion that Trump has an opportunity to grow his support among black voters is the kind of bluster that has cost him any meaningful place on the national stage in 20 years.
Perhaps most tellingly, newly installed campaign manager Kellyanne Conway said she was “moved” by Trump’s recent speeches and appeals to black voters, as a white woman. Conway, a Republican pollster, is believed to be the mastermind behind the new strategy. Working on behalf of conservatives like Dan Quayle, Ted Cruz, Todd Akin, and Fred Thompson, Conway understands the politics of white fear. Harnessing that into Trump’s bastardized version of a tough love-style “Sista Souljah” speech is nothing more than a cheap ploy.
And that’s just it. Like the gilded handrailings at Trump Tower, his outreach to black voters is all for show. Trump’s callous attempts to soften the racial overtones and draw more support from suburban white women will, just like most Trump branded enterprises, wind up in the clearance bin.