When Donald Trump arrived at Great Faith Ministries last weekend, he was met by protestors who were still pissed over his visit to a mostly white crowd in Michigan last month where he said of black people, “You’re living in poverty, your schools are no good, you have no jobs, 58% of your youth is unemployed. What the hell do you have to lose?"
Last weekend's visit followed a recent rally where he told a mostly white crowd in Ohio that black voters have no business voting Democrat. “Poverty. Rejection. Horrible education. No housing, no homes, no ownership. Crime at levels that nobody has seen. You can go to war zones in countries that we are fighting and it's safer than living in some of our inner cities that are run by the Democrats,” he said.
Trump’s interview last weekend with Great Faith Ministries' Bishop Wayne Jackson is set to air Wednesday on an African American Christian television network. If Trump's address to the church is any indication, his interview—of which there was a leaked transcript—will likely be a more careful version of his recent derogatory rhetoric about black Americans.
"Without a focus on educational outcomes for every American, we will perpetuate the permanent underclass that progressive policies have sustained," the transcript reads. "Republicans like me need to have the courage to speak the truth about where we are and what has to be done."
The interview is supposed to help convince black voters that Trump’s not racist. But it most likely won’t work. The damage has already been done. Recent polling shows black voters back Clinton 93% to 3%. In July, Trump was polling at zero percent with black voters in the key swing states of Ohio and Pennsylvania, and another more recent poll shows his favorability rating with black voters at zero.
Yet Trump’s infinitesimal group of black supporters doesn't seem to have been swayed by his tone-deaf outreach to black communities. While Democrats and left-leaning media outlets have called out Trump’s bigotry against Latinx, Muslims, and women—just to name a few groups—as unprecedented from a presidential candidate, Trump's few black supporters refute the criticism that Trump is any kind of historic outlier within the Republican party. But more than anything, their support for Trump seems rooted in an even stauncher opposition to Hillary Clinton.
Black Trump supporters I spoke with wonder why the media spends so much time charging Trump with racism when Clinton supported her husband’s 1994 crime bill and referred to inner-city youth as “super-predators.”
Travis Stegall, a black Trump supporter who runs a nonprofit that addresses racial inequality in the criminal justice system in Dekalb County, Georgia, told me many of the racial disparities he fights are a direct result of Bill Clinton’s “tough on crime” policies of the 1990s.
“My walk in the Republican Party is about socioeconomics at the end of the day,” Stegall says. When I pressed him for some examples of Trump improving the welfare of black people, Stegall fell short of naming anything concrete, but continued to say, “I believe [socioeconomics] is what causes communities to grow. So me being politically involved is actually getting my community a seat at the table and that’s what Trump does,” Stegall says, citing Trump’s support of Al Sharpton.
No matter how much I brought up Trump being fined for workplace discrimination, his tokenizing of his black supporters, the dearth of black executives in his company, and his outright racist remarks about black people before mostly white audiences, Stegall didn't see the racism.
“He’s been supporting Democrats in the Democratic Party for a long time and now, all of a sudden, he’s racist?,” Stegall asked.
Despite his recent pivot to the Republican party, Trump’s treatment of minorities isn’t new. In 1989, he led a racially charged campaign against the Central Park Five—a group of black and Latino teens accused of raping a white female jogger—by taking out a full-page, fearmongering ad that called the boys “crazed misfits” and demanded the death penalty. The boys were eventually exonerated by DNA evidence.
Brandon Cooper, executive vice chair of Prince George’s County GOP, doesn’t believe Trump’s issues with black voters are uncommon. The accusations of racism levied against Trump are the same charges he’s heard about the GOP in general, long before Trump jumped into the presidential race, he says. One advantage Trump has is that, at least with many of Cooper’s black friends, Clinton isn’t very popular either.
“In years past, it was a good Democratic candidate versus a Republican and it was hard,” Cooper said. “This year, it’s two bad candidates and we’re basically trying to do the lesser of two evils and make the best argument on that behalf.”
Sure, Trump settled two DOJ lawsuits accusing him of discriminating against black people seeking leases at his Queens properties during the 1970s, but allegations don’t equal guilt, says Ivory Smith, an ordained minister and lifelong Republican. Most of the black people he ministers to are Democrats who don’t understand why Smith would support Trump, given his harmful rhetoric.
“You’re always going to find, no matter who the candidate is, some percentage of black voters who, for them, this idea of racism and inequality is not going to motivate them to follow the direction of the rest of black voters,” says Dr. Leah Rigueur, a professor at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and author of The Loneliness of the Black Republican.
Many of the black Republicans Rigueur interviewed for her book believe that, after the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the fight against racism essentially ended, leaving them more open to backing a candidate like Trump.
“There emerges a very small group of black voters who have much more flexibility to embrace the extremes of right-wing thoughts,” she says, “the rationale being that, ‘We’ve got protections, we have civil rights. There is nothing left to be done.’”
Smith admits that his conversations with black neighbors have gone nowhere, but he’s fine being an outlier. And he admits Trump could do a better job in how he addresses black people, but that isn’t enough to reconsider his support.
After all, “what did he say that isn’t correct?” Smith asks.
Terrell Jermaine Starr is National Political Correspondent for Fusion. You can follow him on Twitter @Russian_Starr.