Immigrants and refugees are taking jobs from black workers. Undocumented criminals prey on American women. Muslims pose a threat to gay men and lesbians.
For Donald Trump, appealing to minority groups and women often amounts to an “us vs. them” proposition — warning one group that it is being threatened or victimized by another, using exaggerated contrasts and a very broad brush.
“Poor Hispanics and African American citizens are the first to lose a job or see a pay cut when we don’t control our borders,” the Republican presidential candidate said at a rally last week in Akron, Ohio, adding that blacks in particular should vote for him because their lives are so terrible. “What do you have to lose?” he said. “You’ll be able to walk down the street without getting shot. Right now, you walk down the street, you get shot.”
From the start of his campaign, Trump has shaped his message around who is to blame for the nation’s problems — often pointing at illegal immigrants, Black Lives Matter activists and other minorities in a pitch that was aimed primarily at white Republicans.
But now, as Trump seeks to reach out to women and minorities who favor Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, he has increasingly taken to pitting one group against another in a bid for support. It’s not clear how well it will work: Many minority voters, already turned off by months of blunt and polarizing statements, still hear the language of separation in Trump’s words.
“Look, I just think a lot of his views are very ignorant,” Crystal Woods-Brookes, who is black, said as she folded clothes at a laundromat a few miles south of Trump’s Akron rally. “This is not our country, in his words. . . . I believe that’s his whole purpose, to divide, to put us . . . against each other, make one believe the other side is better.
“I believe now he’s trying to change because — it’s not about black people, it’s about the votes,” she added. “He’s already made his point quite clear, as far as I’m concerned.”
The real estate developer and his team insist that he wants to be an “inclusive” president, and he is in the midst of an outreach effort that includes a new stump speech and meetings with blacks, Latinos and other groups. He also has engaged in a war of words with Clinton over racial issues, repeatedly calling her “a bigot” because, he says, her policies have not helped minorities.
Amid criticism for courting minority voters while speaking to overwhelmingly white audiences, Trump will hold a question-and-answer session Saturday at Great Faith Ministries International in Detroit, which has a primarily black congregation. It will be the first of many such events at black and Latino community centers, according to the campaign.
For many of Trump’s supporters — including some minorities fearful of national security threats — Trump’s rhetoric on immigration is more about facing up to the grim realities of a dangerous world, even if that means saying uncomfortable things about Muslims.
Alejandro Lugo, who moved to Miami more than 20 years ago after living in Cuba for 30 years, said outside a recent campaign event in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., that he’s concerned that the United States is not vetting new immigrants sufficiently. He also rejected any comparison between Cuban refugees and Syrian refugees seeking to escape the Islamic State.
“The Cubans that came were running away from Castro. They settled in Miami, they worked. But we did not use an 18-wheeler truck to kill 150 Americans. And the Muslims, they do that. Cubans don’t do that,” Lugo said. “If the Cubans come from Cuba and they start killing American people, they have to be vetted. If you have connections with al-Qaeda and you come here to kill my family, I don’t want you in this nation.”
For the most part, though, Trump’s message has not resonated with minorities or women, who strongly favor Clinton in opinion polls. Most also think Trump is biased against those groups, polls show.
The Rev. William Barber II, the president of the North Carolina NAACP, said in a recent interview that he objects to Trump’s reductive view of the black community: that all African Americans live in poverty, that their communities are the sources of crime and that they have been fooled into voting for Democrats.
“You’re saying: ‘All black people. . . . They’re all lazy, they’re all poor,’ ” he said. “It fits that racialized narrative that crime is a particular community’s problem rather than crime being a reality in the American construct.”
After Trump cited the “oppression of women and gays in many Muslim nations” in June to support his call to temporarily ban Middle Eastern immigrants from entering the country, LGBT leaders accused Trump of fear-mongering after a massacre at a gay nightclub in Orlando — and of suggesting that there are no gay Muslim immigrants.
Women’s groups and activists also have blasted Trump for suggesting that immigrants are a disproportionate threat to women, a rhetorical appeal they say is intended to divide communities among racial lines.
“This is the culmination of all the different ways in which he has painted groups with a very broad brush,” said Marcy Stech, vice president of communications for Emily’s List. “Every week he has shown us this side of him, exposing his racist and misogynistic worldview. And any attempt to erase those moments now is just not going to work.”
José Torres, 54, a computer programmer who works at the Orlando airport, said he was unmoved by Trump’s new pitch to African Americans and Latinos and his potential “softening” on whether he would seek mass deportation of 11 million undocumented immigrants.
“Honestly, the guy as I see him is good at earning money, but as a politician, he’s got radical ideas, and I’m not in agreement with him. I think he’s very racist, also,” Torres said. “It’ll cause disunity in the country.”
Jeremiah Armstrong, 33, of Akron said Trump’s new message to black voters suggests a competition between voters where one really doesn’t exist. Armstrong, a self-employed barber, said the notion that immigrants are taking jobs away from other minorities in the United States does not match with his experience.
“Let me ask you a question: How many black farmworkers do you know? Where around here can you find someone where a Hispanic has come and taken a job?” Armstrong said. “We don’t accept those jobs anyway. I’ve never been offered one, and I’ve never had one taken away from me, so I don’t think that’s the issue.”
Trump’s tough law-and-order talk also has agitated members of the Black Lives Matter movement, who think he doesn’t understand their concerns. Trump has escalated his law enforcement rhetoric in recent months, suggesting several times that protesters are wrong to question police actions.
“Those peddling the narrative of cops as a racist force in our society, a narrative supported with a nod by my opponent, share directly in the responsibility for the unrest in Milwaukee and many other places within our country,” Trump said at a campaign rally in West Bend, Wis. “They have fostered the dangerous anti-police atmosphere in America.”
Many political strategists say the real payoff to Trump’s overtures to minority voters would be to assuage moderate Republicans who are concerned by charges that he is racist. But most doubt his effort will change the minds of minority voters.
“The attempt is at trying to fix a problem he has with mainstream voters, and I’m not optimistic that will work,” said John Weaver, a longtime GOP strategist. “It’s heavy-handed, it’s such a ham-handed attempt. Here’s his problem: People would have to have Etch A Sketch memory in their brains to forget everything he has said.”
Ed O’Keefe in Orlando, Jenna Johnson in Washington and Eva Ruth Moravec in Austin contributed to this report.