For all of President Trump’s success with white evangelicals, he has fared poorly with most black Protestant Christians.
But he sought to make changes this week when he invited multiple pastors of predominantly black congregations to the White House to discuss prison reform. While many prison reform advocates support sentencing changes, the White House has focused its efforts on developing workforce training, reentry and rehabilitation programs.
Despite the desires of those affiliated with the Trump administration who are focused on black voter outreach, there won't be any significant changes to support for the president from the black community, based on historical voting patterns. How black Protestants vote overlaps significantly with black Americans in general, meaning Trump lost their support in 2016 and has continued to poll poorly with the groups.
Hillary Clinton, the 2016 Democratic presidential candidate, won nearly 90 percent of the black vote, according to exit polls. And in that year, nearly 7 in 10 black evangelicals identified with the Democratic Party, according to Public Religion Research Institute.
Bishop Paul S. Morton, founder of the Full Gospel Baptist Church Fellowship, an Atlanta-based network of predominantly black churches, appeared to address his dissatisfaction with Trump’s leadership after the meeting. He tweeted:
But frequent criticism from black pastors has not kept the president from using surrogates with roots in America’s black Christian communities to rally support behind his presidency. And one pastor who attended a meeting of mostly black clergy this week may be a challenge for Trump after he stated Thursday that the president’s actions since arriving in the White House may have caused more harm than good.
CNN’s Don Lemon asked the Rev. John Gray, pastor of Relentless Church in Greenville, S.C., if he believed that Trump was “responsible for hate in the nation’s discourse now.”
“I believe that our president has fostered a culture and climate that has allowed for what was there and has been there for years to bubble up. It has empowered people in a horrific way. Absolutely. I don’t think there’s any question about it.”
That take was strikingly different from one given at the meeting by one of Trump’s most high profile black surrogates — the Rev. Darrell Scott, pastor of New Spirit Revival Center in Cleveland Heights, Ohio. He said:
“This is probably the most proactive administration regarding urban America and the faith-based community in my lifetime. ... This is probably going be ... the most pro-black president that we’ve had in our lifetime.”
With 13 percent of black Americans approving of Trump’s job performance, according to Gallup, it’s safe to say Scott’s view of the president is not common among black Americans. And, perhaps, given the historical influence of pastors in the black community, his words aimed to reverse that. But unless there are significant changes between now and the midterm elections in Trump’s approach to leadership — particularly when it comes to issues affecting black Americans, that view will probably lead to black Americans voting against candidates hoping to expand Trump’s vision of making America great.
Having pastors of black churches, who most black Americans had never heard of before they joined the Trump campaign, support a president who most black Americans think is racist is not going to change black voters' views of Trump. Aggressively speaking out against racism and implementing policies that aim to decrease gaps between how black and white people experience the United States is what is most likely to change black voters' perspective of the man most Americans consider the most divisive president in modern history.