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Trump's controversial remarks raise questions about Black voter push



President Trump’s controversial remarks that Black voters will back him because of his legal woes are raising new questions about whether the GOP’s likely standard-bearer will help or hurt his party with the demographic.

Trump is making a concerted effort to win over Black men in what is expected to be a razor-tight contest with President Biden. His appearance at the Sneaker Con event in Philadelphia and his flirtation with Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) as a vice presidential candidate are both examples of his campaign’s strategy. 

Diante Johnson, president of the Black Conservative Federation (BCF), said Trump’s election and reelection campaign indicates a change happening within the GOP.

“The Democratic Party has never had to fight for the Black vote. They’ve never had to worry about Republicans going back to the Black vote. Now it’s happening and they don’t know what to do,” Johnson said. “The Republican Party is changing. This is not the same Republican Party as our grandparents. This is a Republican Party that is inclusive. This is a Republican Party that is a big tent.”

Johnson pointed to successes Black Americans saw under Trump’s administration, including 10 years of funding for Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and an increase in homeownership from 41 percent to 46 percent. 

But Rep. Steven Horsford (D-Nev.), chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, pushed back on these claims, particularly on record low numbers of unemployment and the historic funding for HBCUs. 

“When Donald Trump passed that bill, that was from the Congressional Black Caucus,” Horsford said. “We’re the ones that got that funding. There’s no one in the House of Representatives who has done more to advance the interest of Black America than the CBC and our members.”

And, he said, despite Trump’s gains among Black voters, a majority of Black voters consistently vote Democratic.

Still, Horsford acknowledged some Black voters may be disappointed with the Democratic Party — but that, he said, is a failure on the party’s communication of what they have done for Black America. 

“We’ll put our record and the record of the Biden-Harris Administration up against Donald Trump and Republicans’ anytime,” Horsford said. “I’m going to spend more of my time on the 87 percent and not the 13 or 14 or 15 percent that Trump tries to buy off with some tennis shoes.”

Still, there’s no doubt the Republican Party has tried to reach Black voters these last few election cycles. 

Efforts by the Republican National Committee stem from a 2022 multimillion-dollar commitment to continue strategic minority engagement efforts to backing Black Republican candidates around the nation.

Some of these efforts seem to be working. Following the 2022 midterms, APVoteCast found that Republican candidates were backed by 14 percent of Black voters, compared to only 8 percent in the 2018 midterm elections.

The Republican Party has also seen an increase in Black elected officials like State Reps. John James (Mich.) and Wesley Hunt (Texas). 

And for the first time in nearly 150 years, Congress has the most Black Republicans serving in Congress.  

But that number is a measly four Black representatives, including Rep. Byron Donalds (Fla.), and only one Black Republican in the Senate: Scott. There are no Black female Republicans serving in Congress.

These small steps forward have progressive groups representing Black voters highly doubtful that Trump’s efforts will amount to much, as they say his rhetoric aimed at Black men has the chance of turning off Black women and young Black voters.

Adrianne Shropshire, executive director of BlackPAC, told The Hill that Trump’s comments, though unsurprising, only serve a reminder to Black voters of the danger he and the larger Republican Party poses to the community.

According to BlackPAC focus groups, she added, Black Americans have consistently identified Trump as the biggest threat to the Black community.

“Black voters are very much concerned about the rise in white supremacy and racism and the degree to which the Republican Party continues to embrace bigots and white supremacists,” said Shropshire. “They are erasing our history, they are taking away our rights, and they’re just on the wrong side of a whole bunch of things. And I think that Donald Trump is the embodiment of all of that unfortunately for them.”

And despite his courting of Scott and Donalds, who have remained staunch supporters of the former president despite his history of controversial racial comments, some experts say Trump’s strategy will fall short with Black men. 

“We don’t care about personalities,” Mondale Robinson, founder of the Black Male Voter Project, told The Hill. “This is not to discount the fact that [Scott] is a Black senator from South Carolina, but it is to say that he does not show up on the needs, issues and policies most important to our community.”

In addition to the rise in white supremacy and racism, Black voters have indicated they are concerned about inflation and the cost of living, jobs and the economy, gun violence and health care. 

Still, Trump has done better, according to exit surveys, than other centrist GOP presidential candidates, which will make his efforts difficult for Democrats and the Biden campaign to ignore.

Trump increased his support with Black voters from 8 percent in 2016 to 12 percent in 2020, according to CNN exit polling, and a poll by Sienna College and The New York Times from November showed him winning as much as 22 percent of the Black vote in the battleground states likely to decide the race. 

A February poll conducted in the battleground state of Michigan by the Howard University Initiative on Public Opinion indicates Trump’s ratings with Black men, which are higher than his support among Black women, could be Biden’s downfall.

“Black men are leaving because Black men are saying that the Democratic Party has told me that I’m not welcome in the birth room, on the deciding factor if my child is aborted or not,” said Johnson of BCF. “There has been a war on Black men from the Democratic Party, and they’re tired of it.”

Still, an AP-NORC poll from December found that only 25 percent of Black Americans said they had a favorable view of Trump.

But Biden’s support among Black voters also appears to be waning. 

Only 50 percent of Black adults said they approve of Biden, down from 86 percent in July 2021, according to the December AP-NORC poll. 

“I think Black people, to some degree, have sort of an identity crisis with regard to the parties,” said Adrienne Jones, assistant professor of political science at Morehouse College. “Neither one is really serving them necessarily.” 

The difference, Jones pointed out, is that Democrats need much more Black voter support to win their elections than Republicans. 

“[Republicans] don’t need a mass exodus, these races are pretty razor thin,” said Jones. “You don’t need to have a mass exodus to benefit from some people crossing over and voting Republican. You just need to save enough in order to get your win.”

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