Trump and his 2020 campaign team are trying to win over black voters, but they will fail – Black voters aren’t buying what Trump is selling. How do I know? I’m a black person who recently left the GOP after decades of being a loyal Republican.
In his State of the Union address this month, as preposterous as it seems, President Donald Trump made it clear he intends to reach out to black voters. He made one of the last living Tuskegee airmen, 100-year-old Charles McGee, a brigadier general, and he had other black guests present in the gallery with the first lady.
After the speech, a friend sent me a photo of a booklet he received from an organization called BlakPac. The cover had a photo of Trump with an image of Frederick Douglass. This is the same Trump who in February 2017 said of the famed escaped slave-turned-abolitionist, “Frederick Douglass is an example of somebody who’s done an amazing job and is being recognized more and more, I notice.”
The president’s comments caused a media firestorm as it became apparent that he did not know much about Douglass, including, possibly, that he died in 1895.
What really struck me was the last sentence: that somehow Trump is going to set black people “free.”
Free from what? Policies that have protected the civil rights and voting rights of black voters? Provided health care for black Americans? Free school lunches and prenatal care for black women and children? All policies, by the way, that the president and his party have cut and restricted since taking office.
Let me be direct: Black voters aren’t buying what Trump is peddling.
How do I know? I am a black person, who was a loyal Republican for decades. I recently left the GOP in protest of the president’s conduct, as have many of us regardless of race or gender.
A poll of black Americans published last month in The Washington Post showed where Trump stands: 90% disapprove of his job performance, 83% think he’s a racist, and 65% say it’s a bad time to be black in America.
How can this be when black unemployment is at historic lows and Trump has shown support for historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs)? The economy is roaring along, and the stock market was strong until this week’s coronavirus panic.
The Trump team is actually taking this issue seriously. They know that white voters have deserted the Democratic Party and that to win, the eventual Democratic nominee must get over 90% of the black vote and at least 39% of the white vote. That’s something Barack Obama managed to do in 2008 and 2012, according to exit polls, but Hillary Clinton fell short in 2016 with 37% of the white vote.
Literally trying to buy the black vote
More evidence of Trump’s efforts to reach black voters surfaced in a Politico report about black groups and at least one pastor holding events in black communities where organizers hand out tens of thousands of dollars to attendees. Where I grew up, we called it “walking around money” or “street money” that campaign surrogates gave to people to get them out to vote for their candidate.
The black vote has eluded Republicans since the Nixon era. In 1960, the Democratic nominee, Sen. John F. Kennedy, won 68% of the black vote to Nixon’s 32%. That dropped to 6% in 1964 when Sen. Barry Goldwater, an opponent of the Civil Rights Act, was the party standard-bearer. By 1968, Nixon had gotten the black vote numbers back up (in a three-man race) to 15%.
Fast-forward to 1988: Republican Vice President George H.W. Bush got 11% of the black vote. That fell to 10% in 1992. GOP nominee Bob Dole hit a high of 12% in 1996 with running mate Jack Kemp (a beloved figure in the black community) with George W. Bush falling to 9% in 2000.
No Republican since Dole and Bush 41 has scored double digits with the black vote.
The problem for Trump isn’t the economy or his support for HBCUs, criminal justice reform and the like. His problem is him. His mouth. His history calling for the death penalty of the “Central Park Five.” His being sued for housing discrimination in the 1970s. His open, hostile and racist birther attacks on America’s 44th president. His calling African nations “s——-” countries. His open and vicious attacks on black women like former adviser Omarosa Manigault Newman or members of Congress also known as “The Squad” — calling them “dogs” and “wacky,” telling them to “go back” to the corrupt countries they supposedly came from.
Black women are the most devoted and loyal voters to the Democratic Party. Trump will move no black female voters to his column in November. They dislike him intensely, as do I.
The GOP is not an open, big-tent party. It is the party of Trump. You back him, are loyal to him, or you risk being personally attacked and destroyed by his minions. Here’s the bottom line: His giving a voucher scholarship to a black child or awarding a Tuskegee airman the rank of brigadier general at his State of the Union is good TV. But that is all it is.
Sophia A. Nelson is a CNN commentator, journalist and author of “E Pluribus One: Reclaiming Our Founders’ Vision for a United America.” She is a senior adviser to The Lincoln Project. Follow her on Twitter: @IAmSophiaNelson