Republican presidential candidate Donald J. Trump recently asked African-American voters, “What the hell have you got to lose?” He went off-script to make his original pitch at a packed rally in East Lansing, Mich. I wasn’t surprised as much as just accepting of another peculiar turn in an already weird campaign.
Peculiar, this time, because Donald Trump made his overt outreach to black voters in a room with few people of color, let alone African-Americans. This after he passed up several opportunities to make his case directly before black audiences; he declined invites from the NAACP, The Urban League, and the national associations of both black (NABJ) and Hispanic (NAHJ) journalists. Donald Trump, the New York celebrity businessman claims many African-American "friends"—air quotes aren’t enough to frame the word here. But Donald Trump, the candidate, is so rejected by black Americans that New York Times columnist Charles Blow chronicled their distaste in a recent piece called “Why Blacks Loathe Trump.” This is no new Trump, as some have suggested, but the same old king of rancid rantings trying out a new tactic. After all, what does he have to lose?
His recent outreach to potential Latino voters is at least more respectful. Too bad his new handlers couldn’t have helped him frame a less insulting approach to black voters. His larger point—that the Democratic party takes black voters for granted—actually strikes a chord with many black voters, even Democrats. Eight hundred African-American Democrats told California pollsters earlier this year their likely candidate was Hillary Clinton, but acknowledged they felt the party assumed their support. And with a few short months to go, 2016 black political operatives and community organizers are complaining about the lack of a robust get-out-the-vote campaign in black communities. This could have been a real opportunity to expand the party of Lincoln’s black support, but ironically, Trump has embarrassed and shunned many black Republicans. They, in turn, have walked away from him. And is anybody fooled by Trump’s rabid surrogates of color? Folks like the much despised Omarosa Manigault, former "The Apprentice" contestant, and the Rev. Darrell Scott, shut down by MSNBC’s Joy Reid after screaming unsubstantiated ravings about Hillary Clinton.
At the joint conference of the National Associations of Black and Hispanic Journalists, Hillary Clinton was asked to share a recent significant conversation with an African-American friend. She easily name-checked several, some recognizable, and then said, “I can’t really pick one conversation out of 50 years of conversations.” Compare that to Donald Trump identifying a black attendee at a rally as “my African-American.” A degrading expression of paternalistic pride of ownership reminiscent of another time.
Donald Trump, you ask: What do we African-American voters have to lose? Wrong question. The real question is what do we have to gain?