President Trump is stumping for black votes with a promise to deliver racial equality through economic prosperity, linking an unexpectedly bright jobs report Friday to George Floyd, a black man who died after a white police officer knelt on his neck for almost nine minutes.
Trump said Friday that the 2.5 million jobs gained in May, vastly beating economists’ predictions of job losses, marked a “great day in terms of equality” in America, adding that “hopefully, George is looking down right now and saying: ‘This is a great thing that’s happening for our country.’” The comments fit neatly with a 2020 message to woo black voters that relies on the economy.
“We’re not going to traffic in racism,” said Katrina Pierson, a Trump campaign senior adviser focused on outreach to black voters. “The message is going to remain the same.”
Prior to a coronavirus recession that cost 40 million people their jobs, Trump aimed to double his support with black voters over 2016 with a focus on a booming economy that led to record-low unemployment within the black community. To drive the message, the Trump campaign was on the verge of opening 15 urban field offices in high-traffic retail shopping districts typically frequented by black voters until the pandemic put businesses on lockdown.
The change in economic conditions — unemployment was 13.3% in May despite strong jobs growth — has not caused the Trump campaign to reconsider; neither has the anger over Floyd’s death nor the protests demanding racial equality roiling black communities, often directed toward Republicans. Pierson said the Trump campaign would begin opening field offices in black neighborhoods this month and send prominent black Trump supporters into communities to hold listening sessions.
“We’re actually looking for some June openings,” Pierson said. “We’re just waiting for the go-ahead from local governments. I can’t tell you when because these centers are in Democrat-run communities.” Described by the Trump campaign as sleek community centers, 15 were due to open before the pandemic, including in Miami, Charlotte, Atlanta, Detroit, Cleveland, Philadelphia, and Milwaukee.
When the Trump campaign first unveiled its initiative to grow support among black voters from 8%, where it finished in 2016, to anywhere from 15% to 19%, Democratic operatives warned their party not to assume the president would fall short. Democrats are still cautioning that the party cannot take black votes for granted.
But Democrats now appear to believe Floyd’s death and Trump’s handling of the resulting civil unrest have made attracting more black votes more difficult. In response to the rioting that accompanied peaceful protests, Trump urged state and local governments to activate National Guard troops, a move some Democrats have criticized as heavy-handed and insensitive to the anguish caused by “systemic racism” in American society.
Democrats, led by presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden, are also quick to cite Trump’s management of the coronavirus outbreak as another obstacle in the president’s bid to increase his share of the black vote significantly. Black people have suffered more COVID-19 infections per capita than other ethnic groups, according to statistics compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Black Americans are sick and tired of this administration not taking their concerns seriously,” said Jamal Brown, spokesman for the former vice president’s campaign. “Now, as our country faces hard truths about the ongoing effects of systemic racism and injustice in our society, Trump pours salt in our centuries-old wounds.”
Even as the president encourages local officials to “dominate” the streets and threatens to send in the military to restore order if they do not, he is touting his support for criminal justice reform, which some conservative critics argue will lead to more criminality.
But that has not stopped the Trump campaign from using the 1994 crime bill to undermine Biden’s relationship with black voters. The legislation, co-authored by Biden when he was a Delaware senator, was supported by most of the public at the time because it addressed fear of urban lawlessness. But it has since been blamed, by Democrats and Republicans, for unfairly targeting black people and leading to unjust incarceration.
The Trump campaign insists there is a difference between “creating” criminals, like critics say Biden did with the crime bill, and “engaging” criminality, the way Trump does by responding aggressively to subdue illegal activity.
“The Left has always tried to use racism as a way to tank this administration, but President Trump’s record of accomplishment for the black community speaks for itself,” said Herschel Walker, a former professional football player, during a Trump campaign livestream program with Donald Trump Jr. “The Trump administration has done what they said they would do for the black community, and we will remember that when it’s time to vote in November.”
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