Some black political activists and voters have long made the same argument that Donald Trump and his surrogates have been pushing in recent weeks: that the Democratic Party takes African American support for granted and has not done enough to earn such strong loyalty from black voters.
But the point has not resonated for Trump in part because of the Republican nominee’s history of racially divisive actions and comments and the caustic tone of his presidential campaign.
Instead, Trump’s appeals have ignited anger and outrage, especially because of the bleak portrait of black life in America — desperately poor and violent — that he presents while speaking before predominantly white audiences.
“You live in poverty, your schools are no good, you have no jobs, 58 percent of your youth is unemployed — what the hell do you have to lose?” Trump said at a recent rally.
The near-universal condemnation of that pitch shows how much his campaign has alienated African Americans and how difficult it will be for him to attract even minimal black support.
Tristan Wilkerson, co-founder of Black and Brown People Vote, a nonpartisan political activism project, said Trump’s appeals to voters of color is “just a step from mockery.”
“Even if a candidate like Donald Trump was telling the truth about the conditions in some impoverished communities of color, it’s hard to receive it because he has been so flat-out disrespectful and inconsiderate of African Americans and people of color and their contributions to this country,” Wilkerson said. “The truth falls on deaf ears when you lack integrity.”
On Saturday, Trump visited a black church in Detroit — his first campaign event that could feature a large audience of African Americans. So far, the business executive has declined invitations to speak for black groups, and his recent appeals to black voters have been made in front of overwhelmingly white audiences.
The candidate was expected to meet with members of the congregation at Great Faith Ministries International and do a one-on-one interview with Bishop Wayne T. Jackson, the pastor of the church. No media was expected to be present for the interview, which will air later on Impact Network, a Christian-oriented cable network owned by Jackson.
Earlier this week, another black minister, Mark Burns, a Trump surrogate from South Carolina, set off a new round of condemnation when he tweeted a cartoon of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in blackface with the words: “Black Americans, THANK YOU FOR YOUR VOTES and letting me use you again..See you again in four years.” After initially resisting calls for an apology, Burns said he regretted using the image but stood by his contention that Clinton and other Democrats take black voters for granted.
“The message is legitimate, but the messenger is completely illegitimate — that’s the irony,” said Van Jones, a political activist and commentator. “African Americans have grumbled quietly for decades about our votes being taken for granted by Democrats, with us giving them 90 percent of our votes and getting 1 percent of the results that we need. But Donald Trump is not the right person to raise it because of his belligerence toward President Obama from Day One and the way he’s raising it. If anything, it will take him from 2 percent black support to 0 percent black support.”
Donna Brazile, interim chair of the Democratic National Committee, has rejected Trump’s characterization of the relationship between the party and black voters.
“The Democratic Party will never take the votes and concerns of African Americans for granted,” she said. “We work hard to make sure that all voices are represented. I am proud that our senior leadership at the DNC looks like America and that our outreach to the African American community is a hallmark of our work here.”
Brazile also argued that the party has delivered results for African Americans, pointing to falling unemployment, health insurance overhauls and fights to ensure voter access at the polls.
Ashley Bell, the Republican Party’s director of African American political engagement, and Omarosa Manigault, Trump’s director of African American outreach, did not respond to requests for comment.
Before the 1930s, most African Americans were registered Republicans and voted that way. But they have voted overwhelmingly for Democratic presidential candidates starting in 1936, when Franklin D. Roosevelt got 71 percent of the black vote, and peaking at 96 percent for then-Sen. Barack Obama’s election as the first African American president in 2008.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) received 4 percent of the black vote in 2008, and Republican Mitt Romney, former governor of Massachusetts, won 6 percent in 2012.
In recent decades, African Americans have viewed the Republican Party as intolerant toward minorities and the poor. That perception has hardened with the party’s criticism of Obama in the past eight years.
But African Americans have voted in significant numbers for Republicans in state and local races. For instance Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) got the support of 26 percent of black voters when he ran for reelection in 2014.
In an average of Washington Post-ABC News polls for July and August, Trump had the support of 3 percent of black voters, while Clinton had 91 percent.
Marlon Marshall, director of state campaigns and political outreach for the Clinton campaign, said in an interview last week, “We do not take African American support for granted.” He cited various efforts to engage black voters, such as African American surrogates stumping at barber shops and beauty salons, churches and college campuses as well as Clinton’s appearances this year in front of the NAACP, the National Urban League and at a joint national meeting of more than 3,000 black and Hispanic journalists.
Trump turned down invitations to speak to each of those groups, which Wilkerson called “ridiculous.” But he also criticized the Democratic Party’s outreach efforts as “rather traditional, what you would expect — hit the churches. What about the folks who don’t go to church?”
Nina Turner, a former state senator in Ohio who was an outspoken surrogate for Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.) during the Democratic primaries, said Trump has a point about the Democratic Party and black voters.
“Even though it’s coming from him, it doesn’t make it wrong,” Turner said. “He is raising a legitimate concern in the African American community.”
What bothers her most, she said, is that neither party is “asking the African American community what we want and what we need. They are telling us what we need, and that goes for both sides.”
Wilkerson said he knows some Republican strategists are upset with how Trump has driven away voters of color from the party, which worked to recruit more black and Latino candidates and party leaders after the 2012 election. He also said more young, black voters are registering as independents and showing support for Green Party candidate Jill Stein, whose running mate is African American.
As the percentage of people of color continues to grow and changes the face of the electorate, Wilkerson said, “it’s pivotal that every campaign court black and brown people and every national political party, especially the two major parties, compete for an electorate that is growing too fast to not consider.”
Jenna Johnson in Detroit contributed to this report.