Santa Fe New Mexican

President Trump trys to woo black voters

- By Reid J. Epstein and Jonathan Martin

DETROIT — Mark Greer is a black Detroiter so outraged by President Donald Trump’s regular stream of invective toward people of color that he does his best to avoid exposure to him.

So when he clicked on a YouTube link last month to watch an episode of The Breakfast Club, a morning radio show popular with African Americans, he was angered by an ad that greeted him: a message from Trump’s reelection campaign.

“It just infuriated me because I felt like they were being slick, trying to slip it in there,” said Greer, 28, who works for a philanthro­pic organizati­on.

Trump’s entire approach to people of color — his attacks on political leaders, his campaign’s social media strategy targeting the black electorate, his ability to fuel black opposition but also demoralize some black voters — is one of the most extraordin­ary political dynamics of the Trump era. No modern president has ever vilified black Americans or sought to divide people along racial lines like Trump, while also claiming to be a champion of their economic interests.

The online ad that Greer saw illustrate­s the audacious nature of Trump’s strategy. Even as the president sows racial disharmony, telling four Democratic congresswo­men of color to “go back,” and saying “no human being” would want to live in the “rat and rodent infested” city of Baltimore, his reelection campaign is spending money on social media to put Trump before the eyes of black voters.

The objectives are twofold: First, to try to win over a handful of black voters. The campaign intends to highlight low rates of African American unemployme­nt and the criminal justice overhaul the president signed, a measure that is already a subject of his campaign’s Facebook advertisin­g.

But the more clandestin­e hope, and one privately acknowledg­ed by Trump allies, is that the president can make black voters think twice about turning out for Democrats or expending energy on trying to change a system some African Americans believe is unalterabl­y stacked against them.

For many voters of color in this crucial swing state, Trump’s racial invective is deeply hurtful on a personal level, but something they have come to expect from a president who has consistent­ly denigrated them.

Democrats also sense that the president’s race-baiting presents a unique opportunit­y. After a disastrous dip in black turnout in 2016 in battlegrou­nd states like Michigan, Democrats are now working to harness the disdain for Trump to motivate a group that may prove to be most pivotal in the 2020 election: the lowpropens­ity voters of color who decide late whether or not to cast ballots in the election.

Longtime black Democratic leaders say the only time they can recall black voters being so engaged in presidenti­al politics was when they had the chance to elect, and then to reelect, Barack Obama. Early polling also points to a highly engaged black electorate.

A June poll from CNN found that 74 percent of Democratic voters were extremely or very enthusiast­ic about voting next year, a higher figure than even in the years before Obama’s two elections. The figure was the same for white and nonwhite Democrats.

Theodore Johnson, a scholar at the Brennan Center for Justice, a nonpartisa­n policy institute, who has written extensivel­y on black voters, said he was skeptical that African American turnout would reach Obama-era levels, but noted that “if it just goes up from 2016, Trump is in trouble.”

Johnson said the evidence from the Trump era indicates that African Americans are highly motivated. He pointed to their turnout in the 2017 special Senate election in Alabama and in last year’s midterm elections, in which the black vote jumped 11 percentage points above 2014 levels, the year of the previous midterm.

The Trump campaign said it was eager to deliver its message to black voters.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United States