Trump, GOP walk tightrope in wooing minority voters
There have been two sides to the Republican National Convention so far this week.
One side has featured what was expected: a grandiose, virtual happy hour to President Trump’s conservative base.
The other side has been an open letter to minority voters — a bloc that the president struggles mightily with.
On the convention’s first two nights, a number of Black voices have been heard touting Trump, from the former NFL player Herschel Walker and Georgia state Rep. Vernon Jones (D) to future and present GOP stars such as Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) and Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron.
Trump also pardoned Jon Ponder, a Black man who after his release from prison founded a program aimed at helping former inmates re-enter society, and presided over a naturalization ceremony featuring new citizens of color.
Early and often, speakers have espoused positive comments regarding Trump and race — a feel-good narrative that at times has clashed with another major convention theme trumpeted by speaker after speaker of police under attack, Democratic cities on fire and suburbs facing an existential threat.
The suburban line of attack, aimed at energizing Trump’s base, has been widely criticized as racist by Democrats and Republican opponents of Trump. It has shared time at the convention with a messaging effort aimed at convincing minority and white voters alike that they should feel good about voting for Trump when it comes to matters of race.
Republicans argue the racism argument is one not based in reality. The idea that “Republicans are racist, it’s not a party for people of color and they don’t care,” is a manufactured narrative by the media and Democrats, Republican strategist Ford O’Connell told The Hill.
On the convention state, former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, the daughter of Indian immigrants, said “in much of the Democratic Party, it’s now fashionable to say that America is racist.”
“That is a lie. America is not a racist country,” Haley said, adding that the U.S. is still “a work in progress.”
She and Scott both detailed the personal hardships they faced earlier in their lives as well as a genteel depiction of the current environment surrounding race relations in the country.
“We live in a world that only wants you to believe in the bad news … racially, economically and culturally-polarizing news,” Scott said. “The truth is, our nation’s arc always bends back towards fairness. We are not fully where we want to be … but thank God we are not where we used to be.”
Critics of Trump point to his equivocating response to the violence in Charlottesville, Va., in 2017 between neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups and those opposed in arguing his policies have inflamed racial tensions.
More recently, Trump’s support of police and use of rhetoric recalling opponents of the 1960s movement for civil rights has been criticized by people who say he is unsympathetic to the needs of Black communities.
Yet despite these criticisms, polls show Trump doing better with Black voters than the typical GOP presidential candidate.
Recent polling by the Democracy Fund + UCLA Nationscape project finds that 80 percent of registered Black voters surveyed said they would vote for Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, while 15 percent said they would back Trump.
While a net lead of 65 points seems like a lot, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton actually had a 80-point lead over Trump with Black voters in exit polls, according to The New York Times.
Eighty points is the average advantage with Black voters that Democratic nominees have had over Republican nominees in presidential elections since 1964, CNN reported in July.
Biden’s lead with registered Latino voters in the Democracy Fund poll — 63 percent to 31 percent — is also less than the 37-point lead that Clinton had with Latino voters in the Times’s exit poll.
Democratic strategists say much of the GOP convention’s messaging is a pandering to voters who have been alienated by Trump’s rhetoric. Moe Vela, who served in both the Clinton and Obama administrations, told The Hill that despite being eloquent, the speeches “fell flat.”
“It doesn’t matter how eloquent somebody is, it’s just absolutely shallow when you compare it to 3 1/2 years of policies and actions,” Vela said. “There’s just a horrible contradiction in both of their speeches; they’re trying to play both sides of this issue.”
Antjuan Seawright, a Democratic strategist based in Haley’s and Scott’s home state of South Carolina, added, “I don’t think anybody who was paying attention [Monday night] who is not already a Trump supporter was convinced otherwise.”
The strategy to appeal to voters of color continued Tuesday night, as Cameron, 34, the first Black American to be Kentucky’s top prosecutor, offered a scathing rebuke of Biden.
“I think often about my ancestors who struggled for freedom,” Cameron said. “I also think about Joe Biden who says ‘If you aren’t voting for me, you ain’t Black,’ who argued that Republicans would put us back in chains, who said there is no diversity of thought in the Black community.”
“Mr. Vice President, look at me. I am Black. We are not all the same, sir. I am not in chains. My mind is my own. And you can’t tell me how to vote because of the color of my skin,” Cameron said.
Like Scott, Cameron evoked the name of Breonna Taylor, the 26-year-old Black woman who was shot and killed by Louisville Police in her own home, but also the name of David Dorn, the retired Black police captain who was shot and killed by looters in St. Louis, Mo., amidst protests over the police killing of George Floyd.
The death of Floyd, who was killed by Minneapolis police at the end of the May, catalyzed widespread protests and unrest, the revitalization of the Black Lives Matter movement and a national discussion regarding police brutality and race in America.
Trump has been criticized over his handling of the protests. He mobilized federal troops to D.C. during the height of the protests and threatened to send troops into other U.S. cities if governors and mayors could not contain escalating demonstrations. Calls to defund local police departments have also become commonplace, a proposition that both Trump and Biden have balked at.
O’Connell defended the president’s hard-line stance.
“The president’s making the point that [he wants] to see justice served for all Americans, but at the same time defunding the police and violence is not going to achieve that result,” O’Connell said.
Nonetheless, tensions have once again boiled in Kenosha, Wis., where Jacob Blake, a 29-year-old Black man, was shot at least seven times in the back by Kenosha police on Sunday. Since then, protests have rocked the small Wisconsin city, forcing Gov. Tony Evers (D) to mobilize the state’s National Guard. During protests Tuesday night, three people were shot while protesting, two fatally.
Yet, save from an opening prayer by Las Vegas pastor Norma Urrabazo at the beginning of Tuesday night’s speeches, those who have spoken at the convention have largely avoided speaking about not only Blake, but the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, which has hit the country’s communities of color the hardest.
“The same party that Tim Scott praises and the president that he’s advocating for … have not done much of anything to find the legislative solutions to the disproportionate impact” that COVID-19 has had on “Black and brown communities,” Seawright noted.
It’s yet to be seen if the GOP’s strategy will bear any fruit come Election Day, but the strategy is expected to continue into the final two nights of the convention, with Douglass Leadership Institute national spokesperson Clarence Henderson and Alice Johnson, who was granted clemency by Trump 2018, slated to speak.
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