Trump attempts to woo Black voters in Detroit. Will it work this time?

By: - March 2, 2020 10:16 am

President Donald J. Trump meets a with African American Leaders Thursday, Feb. 27, 2020, in the Cabinet Room of the White House. | Official White House Photo by Tia Dufour via Flickr Public Domain

As Black History Month drew to near close on Thursday, a group of about a dozen Black supporters joined President Donald Trump in the Cabinet Room of the White House. In African-American church tradition, the men and women lay hands on him. They prayed for him. They vowed to reelect him. They chanted, “Four more years.”

Trump called them “heavy hitters” and hoped that they were “making a lot of money” in their chosen endeavors. Flanked on Trump’s left was comedian Terrence K. Williams; on his right were video bloggers and Fox News media darlings Diamond and Silk. 

Williams called Trump “the greatest president since Abraham Lincoln.” 

President Donald J. Trump participates in a prayer with African American Leaders and Pastor Paula White Thursday, Feb. 27, 2020, in the Cabinet Room of the White House. | Official White House Photo by Tia Dufour via Flickr Public Domain

Seemingly referring to Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Toni Morrison — an African American who once called Bill Clinton America’s first Black president — Jack Brewer, a former National Football League player, said to Trump: “Mr. President, I don’t mean to interrupt, but I’ve got to say this because it’s Black History Month: Man, you are the first Black president.” 

A ringing round of applause ensued.   

Later that evening at a formal reception, Trump suggested  that his polling numbers with African Americans are improving.

“The African-American poverty rate has plummeted to the lowest level in the history of our country,” Trump said. “These are good numbers. I don’t know. I mean, I should be at 100%, I hate to tell you, right?”

Trump has been stressing his record on criminal justice reform. In December 2018, Trump signed into law the First Step Act. The bipartisan measure reduced mandatory minimum sentences in some instances. It expands on “good time credits” for well-behaved prisoners who seek shorter sentences. So far law, about 2,500 people who were serving lengthy sentences have been helped by the Act, most of them African American, according to a Mother Jones report.  

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As Trump campaigns for reelection, the Republican National Committee (RNC) announced plans on Wednesday to open offices in Detroit and cities with sizable African-American populations. Called Black Voices for Trump Community Centers, the offices will be located in key swing or purple states.

“They will allow us to meet voters in cities around the country and share the president’s outstanding record of success for Black Americans,” said RNC spokesman Michael Joyce.  

The RNC is funding the operation of the offices. Joyce said that Trump and the RNC have a winning record to tell when it comes supporting the Black community. He cited job growth, criminal justice reform, investing in Historically Black Colleges and Universities and expanding school choice.

“President Trump has been a true champion for Black Michiganders,” Joyce added. “Our Black Voices for Trump Community Centers will allow Trump Victory to engage with Black voters in an unprecedented way.”  

Trump won Michigan by a razor thin 10,704 votes in 2016. However, former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, his Democratic Party opponent, secured 92% of the vote in Detroit. African Americans compose 80% of Detroit’s population. A Washington Post-Ipsos national poll in January found that eight in 10 African Americans believe that Trump is a racist, and nine in 10 disapprove of his job performance.

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“President Trump has a real record of results for Black Americans, and our party is committed to sharing that winning message far and wide,” said RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel, who served as Michigan GOP chair prior to the 2016 presidential election. “The Republican Party is committed to fighting for every vote just like we fight for every community, and the results of the Trump administration prove that. As the proud party of Lincoln, under the president’s leadership, we are reaching out to Black Americans in ways we never have before.”

Although Clinton won almost 3 million votes more than Trump nationally, he effectively won the presidency by virtue of our winner-take-all Electoral College voting system. Trump took six states that former President Barack Obama, a Democrat, won in 2012: Florida, Iowa, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan. What’s more, Trump’s combined margin of victory in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan was only 77,744 votes. 

Black Voices for Trump Community Centers are expected to open in other swing state cities across the country, including: Jacksonville, Fla.; Miami; Orlando; Tampa; Tallahassee, Fla.; Atlanta; Cleveland; Columbus, Ohio; Philadelphia;  Pittsburgh; Charlotte, N.C.; Raleigh, N.C.; Greensboro, N.C.; and Milwaukee, Wis.

Veteran Detroit-based political consultant Steve Hood, who has strong ties to the Democratic Party, said that the Motor City office opening is a shrewd political move on Trump’s part.  

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“I would do it,” Hood said. “I wouldn’t leave any vote untouched. [Trump] is the guy who put money into HBCUs [Historically black colleges and universities]. If he pardons [former Detroit Mayor] Kwame Kilpatrick, a lot of things could change. There are a lot of people in Detroit who would jump over to [Trump] in the general election.”

Earlier this week, state Rep. Sherry Gay-Dagnogo (D-Detroit) presented to Trump a set of petitions requesting clemency for the disgraced former mayor. Kilpatrick, who once served as Michigan House minority leader and considered a rising political star nationally, was convicted in 2013 on multiple counts, including racketeering, mail fraud and wire fraud. He is carrying out a 28-year sentence in federal prison.

Former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick | Wikimedia Commons

“We don’t have to agree on every issue, or even a majority of issues, to see the plain facts of this situation and recognize that those who issued Mr. Kilpatrick’s sentence sought to make an example out of a powerful but flawed Black man,” Gay-Dagnogo wrote in an email to her constituents. “This discussion is about changing that example to one of second chances and rehabilitation — the same opportunities he has given to a number of other recently incarcerated individuals. I welcome allies of all backgrounds in the fight for justice.”

Meanwhile, Lavora Barnes, the Michigan Democratic Party’s first African-American female chair, blasted the RNC office-opening effort.

“This is nothing more than a cheap public relations play from a president who has broken promise after promise to Black voters,” Barnes said. “Donald Trump is parachuting into Detroit on an election year while the Michigan Democratic Party has been building a grassroots infrastructure in the city and speaking with voters about the issues that matter to them for years. This November, that organizing will pay off and Michigan will turn blue up and down the ballot.”

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Ken Coleman
Ken Coleman

Ken Coleman writes about Southeast Michigan, history and civil rights. He is a former Michigan Chronicle senior editor and served as the American Black Journal segment host on Detroit Public Television. He has written and published four books on Black life in Detroit.