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Trump says blacks who stayed home were ‘almost as good’ as those who voted for him

President-elect Donald Trump said that African American voters stayed at home were "almost as good" as those who voted for him. (Video: Victoria Walker/The Washington Post)

President-elect Donald Trump claimed Friday night that African Americans came through for him “big league” in the November election and said those who stayed home were “almost as good” as those who voted for him.

Trump’s comments came during a rally in Grand Rapids, Mich., the latest stop on an ongoing “thank you” tour of states where the Republican prevailed against Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

Nationally, exit polls showed Clinton overwhelmingly won African Americans over Trump, 89 percent to 8 percent. Still, that was a somewhat smaller margin than President Obama enjoyed in his 2012 reelection against Republican nominee Mitt Romney. Exit polls from that race showed that Obama garnered 93 percent of the black vote compared with Romney’s 6 percent.

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“The African American community was great to us,” Trump told his crowd Friday night. “They came through, big league. Big league. And frankly if they had any doubt, they didn’t vote, and that was almost as good because a lot of people didn’t show up, because they felt good about me.”

Among the reasons for Clinton’s loss was lower-than-anticipated turnout among demographic groups that propelled Obama’s victory, including African Americans. Trump, meanwhile, benefited from a strong performance among working-class white voters.

Michigan was among the industrial Midwestern states where Trump unexpectedly prevailed.

Playing up his populist message, Trump told the crowd that they had been ignored but would be no longer.

“People are paying attention to you now,” he said. “These people are talking about you every night. They never talked about you. They care about you now.”

During his speech, he introduced the chief executive and chairman of Dow Chemical, Andrew Liveris, referring to him as “a man who cares greatly about this state and this country — even though he does happen to come from Australia.”

Trump announced that the chemical industry magnate would be heading up his American Manufacturing Council.

In brief remarks, Liveris touted the economic swagger his corporation carries in Michigan and announced that a new innovation center would be created in the state, promising hundreds of jobs.

“We could’ve put it anywhere in the world,” Liveris said. “We aren’t waiting. We’re going ahead. We’re using American hard work and American dreams and we’re going to fight for the Dow company and the U.S.A.”

Left unmentioned was Dow’s decision in June to cut about 8 percent of its total workforce in Michigan as a result of its takeover of Dow Corning amid a pending merger with rival DuPont.

Trump told the audience that Liveris would soon be making the appointments to the council, which he said aims to find “ways to bring industry back to America.”

“You can count on me and the business leaders we’ll put on this team,” Liveris said. “This will be America’s finest and brightest to solve these problems that you all have.”

There had been speculation that Trump would use Friday’s event to name Ronna Romney McDaniel, the state’s Republican chairwoman, to lead the Republican National Committee. But there was no mention of that, aside from an off-handed compliment from the president-elect for her help in carrying the state.

Instead, Trump brought out his previously announced pick for education secretary, Betsy DeVos, in an evident display of another Michigander made good.

DeVos promised the crowd that “your kids will have someone fighting for them every single day.”

She avoided specifics of what she would have planned for the Education Department, but she reiterated her guiding principles.

“The answer is local control, it’s listening to parents and it’s giving more choices,” she said.

Trump first held a rally in this growing western Michigan city last December, when he was still seeking the Republican Party nomination. Then, the arena had been full well before his arrival. While seats filled out once again, the arena didn’t fill to capacity as it had before.

Protesters were back, though, and escorted out at regular intervals. When one managed to provoke Trump’s signature dismissal — “Get ‘em out of here!” — the crowd roared.

Trump bookended his speech with his usual talking points on jobs, energy and trade, and made another promise to “drain the swamp” in Washington. He also provided the crowd with a play-by-play of his campaign’s final hours, and included some quirky anecdotes.

He claimed that his campaign, on election night, offered to buy for five cents on the dollar the fireworks Clinton’s campaign had procured.

“They never responded,” Trump said to laughter. “I thought I could buy the fireworks cheap.”

Schuster reported from Grand Rapids, Mich. Emily Guskin contributed to this report.