No Republican president has won the black vote in the years it has been tracked, going back to the Voting Rights Act of 1965. But President Trump arguably tried in 2016 — albeit in an incredibly unorthodox way, like much of the rest of his campaign.
During his presidential campaign, Trump challenged black voters to give him a shot at following Barack Obama, the first black president in American history. Despite making multiple offensive comments, repeatedly attacking the popular Obama, and his own history of racial profiling and discrimination, Trump won a higher percentage of black voters than the 2012 Republican presidential nominee. But in the first election that is a referendum on his presidency, Trump appears to have abandoned any effort to turn out black voters for his party.
Trump strayed from his prepared remarks to make one of these appeals to black voters before a predominantly white crowd in Akron, Ohio, in August 2016. He said:
Our government has totally failed our African American friends, our Hispanic friends and the people of our country. Period. The Democrats have failed completely in the inner cities. For those hurting the most who have been failed and failed by their politicians — year after year, failure after failure, worse numbers after worse numbers. Poverty. Rejection. Horrible education. No housing, no homes, no ownership. Crime at levels that nobody has seen. You can go to war zones in countries that we are fighting and it’s safer than living in some of our inner cities that are run by the Democrats. And I ask you this, I ask you this — crime, all of the problems — to the African Americans, who I employ so many, so many people, to the Hispanics, tremendous people: What the hell do you have to lose? Give me a chance. I’ll straighten it out. I’ll straighten it out. What do you have to lose?
Many black voters labeled his portrayal of the black American experience as offensive and condescending before ultimately choosing to support Democrat Hillary Clinton.
Since 2016, there have been even fewer African Americans vouching publicly for Trump.
Trump’s African American campaign surrogates Katrina Pierson and Paris Dennard are no longer daily fixtures on CNN. YouTube stars Diamond and Silk, who regularly attack liberal black lawmakers while defending Trump, are no longer campaign rally staples. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, the Trump surrogate with the most notoriety in the black community before launching his own presidential bid, has pretty much disappeared from campaign activities. And Omarosa Manigault Newman, once the most powerful black person in the White House, has the rare distinction of having been fired from both Trump’s reality show and White House.
While all of them still support Trump except for Manigault Newman, who now claims that her former boss is racist, they have not been dispatched across America to rally black votes for Trump-endorsed Republicans. Part of that may be because after a failed effort apparently orchestrated by hip-hop artist Kanye West, Trump seems for the moment to have given up on trying to convince black voters that his vision of a great America includes them.
The black unemployment rate hit its lowest number in history during Trump’s presidency, but the president hasn’t gone to places with large percentages of black residents to convince voters that this trend could continue under his watch. Most of his rallies have been in the small cities with large percentages of the white working-class voters that occupy a significant piece of his base and away from the inner cities that he promised to reform.
One of the positions that Trump appeared to assume once he entered the White House is Chief Culture Warrior. When given the choice between addressing the cultural concerns of his mostly white base, who cited immigration and discrimination against white Americans among their major fears during the 2016 election, and black Americans, who have regularly criticized Trump’s positions on the Charlottesville shooting, the National Football League protest debate and immigration from predominantly black countries, the president has chosen to stick to his base.
Presidents usually use midterm elections to expand their base and attempt to win over people who did not previously support them. But it all makes sense if you consider the argument made by Ta-Nehisi Coates in the Atlantic that Trump is “the First White President.”
Few groups give Trump lower approval rating than black Americans. According to the Quinnipiac University poll, only 8 percent of black Americans approve of him. But the president remains relatively popular with those groups who helped send him to the White House, including white Americans, the ethnic group giving Trump the highest approval (49 percent).
In theory, Trump could have crossed the country delivering a multipronged message to Americans of different ethnic groups about why the GOP is the best political group to advance the United States. But that’s not what got Trump to the White House. Stoking fears did. And instead of making a potentially laughable effort to convince black Americans that he wants to improve their lives, Trump has chosen to address the concerns of white Americans in his base.