Donald Trump addressed a crowd in Fredericksburg, Va., on Saturday night, and discussed one of the new features apparent in his campaign.
“In recent days, across this country, I’ve asked the African-American community to honor me with their vote,” Trump said. “I fully recognize that outreach to the African-American community is an area where the Republican Party must do better.”
The need for better outreach by the Republican Party and its nominee to African-Americans has been underscored as Trumpmade this point in recent days to the overwhelmingly white crowds that show up to his rallies.
“The GOP is the party of Lincoln, and I want our party to be the home of the African-American vote once again. I want an inclusive country, and I want an inclusive party,” Trump said in Virginia.
The challenge Trump has in reaching out is also apparent in his poll numbers. African-Americans represent a reliable voting bloc for Democrats, but Trump’s poll numbers with black voters are low — even for a Republican nominee.
Exit polls from 2012 showed Mitt Romney winning just 6% of African-Americans, while President Obama won 93% of the black vote. An ABC News/Washington Post poll this month showed Trump with just 2% of support among black voters.
Trump seemed to refine his pitch on Saturday. Earlier in the week, Trump was criticized for using sweeping generalizations to make the case for African-American voters to pull back support for Democrats.
“What do you have to lose? What do you have to lose? You’re living in poverty, your schools are no good. You have no jobs — 58 percent of your youth is unemployed,” Trump said on Friday in Dimondale, Mich., a mostly white community near Lansing. “What the hell do you have to lose?”
Trump has made generalizations along these lines before. Politifact recently rated that claim about black youth unemployment mostly false, finding the jobless rate for African-Americans ages 16 to 24 was just under 19 percent. That’s more than double the rate for whites in the same age group, but far less than the figure Trump used.
Trump also took his message to West Bend, Wisconsin, last week. It’s a mostly white town 40 miles from Milwaukee, the racially-divided city where protests had broken out after police shot and killed a black man just days before.
“The main victims of these riots are law-abiding African-American citizens living in these neighborhoods,” Trump said in West Bend.
For months, Trump has argued that he has “tremendous African American support.” In Michigan on Friday, he told the crowd, “At the end of four years, I guarantee you that I will get over 95 percent of the African-American vote. I promise you.”
Democratic strategist Jamal Simmons, who is African-American, called the idea of Trump getting a large share of the black vote a “pipe dream.”
“Black voters are still looking at what he says about Mexicans. And we know that once you start identifying people by racial group — or Muslims by religion — you start that circle it tends to come back around and smack black voters in the face pretty quickly,” Simmons said.
GOP strategist Ron Christie, who’s also African-American, suggests Trump start by spending more time in black communities.
“All black folks aren’t in jail. All black folks aren’t on welfare. All black folks aren’t poor. But Republicans, I think, have made the mistake of putting the largely African-American messaging in terms of crime, poverty and welfare rather than talking about empowerment, self-sufficiency and achieving the American dream,” Christie said.
And whether Trump’s message is really aimed at black voters raises skepticism from Jamal Simmons, who said this rhetoric might be an attempt at softening the racial overtones of Trump’s campaign to draw more support from suburban white women. “Those voters are primed to vote for a Republican, but they don’t necessarily want to be associated with someone who has racist or bigoted views,” Simmons said.
While white voters make up the overwhelming majority of Trump’s supporters, the GOP nominee will take his message to a majority-black community this week. He’s holding a campaign rally in Jackson, Miss., on Wednesday.