Yes, Democrats have to defend their African-American base against Trump
For the supermajority of African-American voters, Donald Trump’s presidency is an existential crisis. This president has seemingly insulted immigrants from African and Afro-Caribbean countries.
He gave aid and comfort to white supremacists in the streets of Charlottesville, Va. He even hires the likes of Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller, who have, even in the kindest interpretation, displayed white nationalist sympathies.
He is overseeing the least diverse Cabinet in modern, post-Jim Crow history. And he rose to national political notoriety by leading the scurrilous effort to discredit President Barack Obama by questioning his U.S. citizenship. The case against Trump is a straightforward one for African-Americans to make broadly.
With that as a backdrop, why do we find ourselves discussing Trump’s efforts to reach out to African-American voters with flashy State of the Union announcements, notable forays into African-American culture by involving himself in the A$AP Rocky extradition case and touting high-profile African-American validators like Kanye West?
Well, from a purely political standpoint, Donald Trump needs African-American voters if he is to be reelected.
“Needs” is the operative word here. Donald Trump has mostly tapped out his base of support with lower educated white voters from non-urban areas around the country. At the risk of overstating the case, Trump has squeezed about as much from his base of about 35-40 percent of the electorate that he can. And he knows that he cannot keep his residence in the White House with only those voters. Trump must find voters in other places to keep alive the few narrow paths to victory that currently exist for him.
In 2016, Trump secured 8 percent of the African-American vote nationally. That is slightly higher than Sen. Mitt Romney’s (R-Utah) 6 percent vote share in 2012. When you break down that 8 percent, Trump received roughly 13 percent of African-American men and 4 percent of African-American women.
If you told me that Donald Trump dropped below 4 percent with African-American women, I’d believe you. No community likely feels more under assault and risk from a second Trump term than African-American women.
And African-American women are the most reliable block of the Democratic voters. They form the compacted base of the Democratic party that shows up on Election Day and remains loyal every cycle.
It’s a little more complicated with African-American men. Thirteen percent is no great shakes when it comes to any population of voters. But it does demonstrate some softness within this voting bloc.
So, what we are really talking about is whether Trump can nudge that number from 13 percent to say 15 or 16 percent. Among African-American men. That would go a long way to put Trump over the top in what will likely be one of the closest general elections of our lifetime.
So, to this question. Can Donald Trump ride African-American voters to victory? Not exactly. But it requires some context. The question is not whether Trump can carry this traditionally Democratic group to success.
It’s about whether Democrats are willing actually to put up a fight to keep the African-American vote. To turn out that reliable base of African-American women. And to hold the line from any more defections from that less reliable group of African-American men.
What does that mean? It means that Democrats cannot enter this cycle with a traditional mindset that African-American voters are simply a turnout universe.
If Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Bernie Sande0rs (I-Vt.), Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn. (or Mike Bloomberg) is the nominee, they cannot afford to wait until Labor Day to start running ads for early vote and getting African-American voters fired up to turn out on Election Day.
African-American voters require a consistent, affirmative message for why they deserve your vote.
For all of his faults and flaws and believe me — the list shared above is just a small fraction of them – Donald Trump is making an affirmative case for why African-Americans should vote for him.
Yes, there are the economic numbers which, of course, started under Obama. But Trump has overseen historically low African-American unemployment numbers.
And there’s criminal justice reform which is likely the most spectacular bipartisan accomplishment of Trump’s term. And there’s several other small and medium-range efforts that vary from cheap photo ops to ham-handed attempts to pander.
Donald Trump is anything if transactional. And, for better or worse, many African-American voters have been craving presidential leadership that feels transactional because it means someone is actively trying to win their favor.
To clarify, when Republican strategists try to make the case that Trump can win 20 to 25 percent of the African-American vote.
That’s ridiculous. I was even quoted in the Wall Street Journal saying that I have a better chance of jumping center for an NBA team than Trump making that type of inroad, which I still contend. But he does not have to make that type of jump to achieve his electoral objective.
Once Democrats settle on a candidate, that candidate needs to immediately dispatch a plan to first persuade and pursue African-American voters in a systematic, sustained fashion. The same type of persuasion that that is expended upon working-class white voters across the Heartland every election cycle.
And even more urgently, Democrats need a strategy for African-American male voters, particularly one that targets younger, lower educated African-American males to ensure that they don’t stay home or, worse yet, stray to Trump.
Joel Payne is a former senior aide for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and former director of African-American advertising for Hillary for America 2016. He is currently a political contributor for CBS News.