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Republicans see improvement with Black voters despite themselves

Summaries of Donald Trump’s speech at a Black Conservative Federation (BCF) event on Friday can hardly capture the extent of the bizarre pandering that it entailed.

Yes, Trump indicated that the mug shot that accompanied his arrest in Georgia had been embraced by “the Black population” more than any other group. “You see Black people walking around with my mug shot,” he said. “You know, they do shirts and they sell them for $19 a piece.” Those shirts are for sale, but are almost certainly more commonly worn by White Trump supporters at Trump events.

After years of deriding the Black Lives Matter movement and shrugging at its focus on institutional racism, Trump also told his audience that this idea was correct.

“Black conservatives understand better than most that some of the greatest evils in our nation’s history have come from corrupt systems that try to target and subjugate others, to deny them their freedom and to deny them their rights,” he told the audience. “I think that’s why the Black people are so much on my side now, because they see what’s happening to me, happens to them.”

By “what’s happening to me,” of course, he meant that he’d been criminally indicted. Black votes matter, it seems.

Those were the relatively sophisticated presentations. More than once he awkwardly tried to make his regular patter more Black-oriented, in obvious ways. His recent riffs about President Biden wearing a bathing suit (don’t ask) became a testament to how even Cary Grant — or better, Sidney Poitier! — wouldn’t look great in a bathing suit at 81. He insisted that having the Black unemployment rate hit a historic low during his presidency was a record akin to Babe Ruth’s home run record — or rather, Barry Bonds’s! (The record was broken under Biden.)

Reading from the teleprompter as his BCF speech was wrapping up, he had an extended riff about how “Black Americans have been a vital part of the American story, helping to make this the greatest nation in the history of the world.”

“So true!” he added, as though someone else had been saying the thing he just said.

Trump’s rhetoric demands that his actions are the best possible actions and his opponents the worst, so he also at one point offered a sweeping assessment of Biden.

“It’s the only thing he’s really been good at his entire career. You know what that is?” Trump said. “Being a racist. Because he’s a racist.” Biden was also the person who was the real threat to democracy, Trump said in the same speech, just as Hillary Clinton was the real puppet of Russian President Vladimir Putin, as he said in a 2016 debate.

All of this is astonishingly unsubtle. Trump’s pitch to Black voters used to center on a disparagement of the failure of Democrats to solve every race-related problem with a shrugging “What do you have to lose?” Now, after serving as president for four years, he frames his presidency as a staggering success — better for Black Americans than probably even Lincoln! — and declares that Black people like him because he was arrested. He’s long suggested that Black people are mostly worried about inner-city crime, a revelation of how he views the Black experience, so this is just turning the dial up a notch.

And the crowd at the event applauded heartily.

The Biden campaign dismissed Trump’s remarks as “racist” and “insulting.”

“Donald Trump claiming that Black Americans will support him because of his criminal charges is insulting. It’s moronic. And it’s just plain racist,” Cedric L. Richmond, Biden’s campaign co-chair, said in a statement.

The next day, Trump spoke at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Washington. He left out most of the pitch to Black voters but did again try to frame Biden as antidemocratic, saying the president is “surrounded by some very bad fascists.” Prowling the convention floor, meanwhile, were overt white nationalists and Nazis, according to NBC News.

It’s a reminder that Republican and Trump’s own efforts to appeal to Black and Hispanic voters are happening as the party also centers heavily on the politics of White grievance, including in its most extreme forms. The “great replacement theory,” centered on a conspiracy involving immigration, is broadly accepted among Republicans, creating oxygen for fringe-right racists like those NBC saw at CPAC.

But that is also occurring as Republicans are doing better with non-White voters. Speaking to BCF, Trump celebrated that Republicans had “increased our share of the Black vote by 50 percent — five-oh” in 2020, adding that “we earned more votes from African Americans, Hispanic Americans and Asian Americans than any Republican in generations.” This is based on comparing his 8 percent of Black support in 2016 exit polls with 12 percent in 2020, but those numbers are probably too high.

Data from Gallup, though, shows that the margin by which Black and Hispanic Americans prefer Democrats has shrunk since 2020. During Barack Obama’s presidency, Black Americans were 71 points more likely to identify as Democrats, according to Gallup’s annual data. During Trump’s presidency, the gap was 66 points. Since then, the average has been only 55 points, including a 47-point gap in 2023. Among Hispanics, the 30-point Democratic advantage during Trump’s presidency has become a 20-point edge.

Views of Trump himself have softened among Black Americans since he left office. When he was president, YouGov polling for the Economist found that 77 percent of Black Americans viewed him unfavorably each month on average. But that’s fallen since, as has the percentage of Black Americans who view him very unfavorably. Overall, the percentage of Americans who view Trump unfavorably hasn’t changed much.

You’ll note that the drop in Trump’s unfavorability among Black Americans predates his indictments and his Georgia mug shot and — as one enthusiastic Fox News guest suggested — his sneaker line. In fact, when the indictments landed, Trump’s unfavorable ratings among Black Americans increased as they did overall. That bump then faded.

There are some structural factors at play here, including that younger Black Americans — who make up more of the electorate — are more likely to be politically independent, like younger Americans generally. It’s possible, too, that the post-2020 shifts are less about Trump than about the other changes that have unfolded during and since that epochal year. Reports have also consistently noted Black dissatisfaction with Biden’s administration, which makes skepticism of his party more likely.

As Trump tends to, he sees all of this as being about Trump. His rhetoric to Black voters is more explicitly pandering in part because he seems to think it works. His dubious rhetoric to non-Black voters — like that the prosecutors targeting him are doing so because they are “racist” — can similarly be excused as long as that improvement exists.

And as long as those audiences don’t compare notes.

“I’m being indicted for you, the American people,” he said to the BCF crowd. “I’m being indicted for you, the Black population.”

If nothing else, we can say that, somehow and so far, the pandering doesn’t not work.

correction

A previous version of this article misspelled Sidney Poitier’s first name. The article has been corrected.

This post appeared first on The Washington Post

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