A bit later, he advocated for an expansion of school vouchers, an issue that Republicans see as a potential wedge for black voters, by telling the story of a young black girl who was in the audience: Janiyah Davis had hoped to get an Opportunity Scholarship but was unable to do so.
Trump had good news.
“I am pleased to inform you that your long wait is over,” he said to applause. “I can proudly announce tonight that an Opportunity Scholarship has become available, it’s going to you, and you will soon be heading to the school of your choice.”
Davis and her mother were clearly happy and understandably so. For Trump, it was a direct representation of what he thought he was doing for black Americans broadly: giving them something that they wanted. In the abstract that’s jobs, at least as measured by the unemployment rate.
At other times, he touts the changes to the criminal justice system that he signed into law in the same way. In the past, he’s presented those policies as being of specific and unique benefit to the black community. A Super Bowl ad that he and his adviser-in-law Jared Kushner believed would appeal specifically to black voters featured Trump’s pardon of Alice Marie Johnson, curtailing her life sentence on drug charges.
Supporters of Trump’s have been even more directly transactional, holding events at which black attendees have the chance to win envelopes full of cash.
In broad strokes, the effort to woo black voters makes some sense. More than 1 in 5 Democratic votes for president in recent years have come from black voters. If Republicans can peel away even a few of those votes or — as the campaign was reported to have attempted in 2016 — get them to stay home, GOP electoral prospects improve.
It’s worth noting, though, how Trump and his team go about appealing to different voter blocs. For black Americans Trump’s campaign offers a straightforward here’s-something-you-want pitch. To his base of white working-class voters, though? It’s about speaking to deep-seated concerns and desires, engaging in a cultural fight that encapsulates broad swaths of their lives. There’s some transactionality, too; Trump supporters talk about how well the economy is doing. But at its root, the pitch to his own side is rooted much deeper.
It’s possible that Trump sees economic issues as being the sort of core issue for black people that opposing liberals is to his own voters. It’s also possible that he simply reverts to transactionalism because he doesn’t have a sense of how else to approach the subject. A recent New York Times report about Trump’s outreach to black voters suggests that it’s more the former than the latter. Kushner, for example, has been “advising Mr. Trump that black voters can be converted into supporters if they are simply educated on his policies.”
This approach seems doomed in part because of the shallowness of its treatment of black concerns. It’s also doomed because black Americans see the cultural pitches that Trump makes to his base — and how those pitches are often directly in conflict with what black Americans hope to see.
Recent polling from The Post and Ipsos makes clear how explicit the rejection of Trump’s approach has been. The vast majority of black Americans — registered voters, in fact — believe Trump himself is racist and that his presidency has made racism a bigger problem in the country.
Eighty-one percent of black voters think that white Americans overall don’t understand the discrimination faced by black Americans. It’s safe to assume that the percentage who would say that of Trump himself would be higher, given that 84 percent of black voters think the president is actively racist.
That perception of Trump himself undoubtedly colors views of what he’s doing. Most black voters think that Trump deserves hardly any credit for the drop in the black unemployment rate.
One can debate the extent to which any president directly influences job markets, but it’s likely that many of the responses here don’t need to extend out to that second degree.
Trump and his team don’t seem to understand that jobs and criminal justice reform make up only a small part of what black Americans are concerned about. During the 2016 campaign, Trump famously asked black voters: “What do you have to lose?” He often talked about black America solely within that context: blacks lived in the inner city — implying, in poverty — with bad schools and rampant crime. With that vastly incomplete checklist in hand, Trump went about ticking the boxes, and only those boxes.
How’d it go for him? Three-quarters of black voters think Trump’s actions have been bad for blacks. Half say they’ve been very bad. Barack Obama’s numbers were the opposite.
Trump is in a uniquely poor position with black voters, but he’s also inheriting long-standing skepticism of his party. Any Republican president able to persuade a large number of black voters to support him would be battling the perception that the party itself is oppositional to or ignorant of their interests.
If there’s one bright spot in The Post’s polling, it’s that there is a gender divide among black voters on some issues. Black men are more likely to say that Trump is only somewhat bad for black Americans and are more likely to say that Trump deserves only some credit for the unemployment rate, as opposed to “hardly any.” These are subtle differences and ones which might be generously described as only modestly encouraging.
Over the course of his presidency, though, views of Trump among black Americans broadly have barely budged. Over and over Trump thinks he’s delivering concrete wins for black Americans, and, over and over black Americans continue to view his administration with deep disapproval.
Trump seems to think he can either cobble together some victory for black voters before November or some message about what he’s done which can significantly shift those lines above.
Fundamentally, though, the issue lies elsewhere. The president understands intuitively how to appeal to the white working-class voters who power his political support. He has no similar sense of how to appeal to African Americans. So he tries giving black people the things he thinks they want, expecting that this will be enough to do the trick.
By now he should have learned that it won’t.