Election 2020

Defining 'Success' in Trump's Black Outreach Isn't What Black Activists Think It Is

President Donald Trump signs the Historically Black Colleges and Universities HBCU Executive Order, Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2017, in the Oval Office in the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

CNN contributor and black activist Van Jones thinks the Democrats are whistling past the graveyard when they try to downplay Donald Trump’s outreach to black and minority communities. He thinks Trump is deadly serious and is having some success.

For Democrats, this is political Armageddon. In every swing state — Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Florida, and Ohio — Democrats will win or lose based on turnout numbers for minorities. And it’s not just numbers. They need 90 percent support or more among blacks and 75 percent or more from Hispanics or their path to victory in those states becomes nearly impossible.

The inroads Trump is making with minorities is real, but not large. But the kicker is, it doesn’t have to be. If Trump can get 20 percent of the black vote, Democrats can kiss the White House goodbye.

And they know it. That’s why they’re trying so hard to dismiss the outreach as something Republicans always do.


But many African Americans aren’t buying Trump’s rhetoric and say his message to black voters doesn’t match the social policies his administration has endorsed. They say Trump is long on public relations and short on substance in his courting of African Americans.

“The contradiction between how he governs and how he markets is truly remarkable,” said Cathy Cohen, a professor of political science at the University of Chicago. “His deployment of black people on television and in speeches is very different than the way that he has governed in terms of shutting black people out of the benefits they rightly deserve. But this week, they were part of the America he fights for.”

Does anyone else get the supreme, hysterical irony of black activists accusing a Republican of using black people as stage props and governing differently than he campaigns?

Trump’s State of the Union speech, part of an effort political activists and experts say the president and his re-election team made this week to bolster support with groups where enthusiasm for the president is wavering, recycled long-running GOP tactics and then added a Trump spin. The target audience was white Republican moderates and independents, but the address included an audacious set of claims that a slice of black Americans disenchanted with the Democratic field could possibly find compelling. It positioned Trump as a singular figure willing and able to deliver big things. And it remains an approach far more likely to compel white voters to the polls than black.

Oh, really? In the age of Trump, conventional wisdom can be tossed out the window. Trump’s approval among black voters is rising — over 20 percent in some polls. He’s doing even better with Hispanics. In the past when Republican presidents have seen their support surge among minorities, by Election Day it has returned to the status quo. But can Democrats really afford to take that chance? The fact that the minority vote has been so reliable for them over the years has meant they haven’t had to devote a lot of national resources to minority communities. That change alone would mean a huge advantage for the Trump campaign. That money going into the black community might have been better spent to attract white working-class voters.

The bottom line is that Trump doesn’t have to win 25 percent or even 20 percent of the black vote to cruise to re-election. His successful outreach so far means the Democrats are going to have to spend money defending their home turf rather than going after persuadable Trump voters.

That kind of strategic change wins elections.