Trump Reaches Out to Black Voters

ATLANTA — After a summer of racial furor, President Trump reached out to African-American voters on Friday, arguing that his economic and criminal justice policies had done more for them than decades of false promises by Democratic leaders who he said took them for granted.

Kicking off a new campaign effort called “Black Voices for Trump,” the president sought to recalibrate his message as he heads into next year’s re-election effort. Addressing several hundred African-American supporters who signed up to help him win another term, he vowed to compete for support across racial lines.

“We’re going to campaign for every last African-American vote in 2020,” he told the crowd at the Georgia World Congress Center. “We’ve done more for African-Americans in three years than the broken Washington establishment has done in 30 years.” He added that “the Democrat Party left you a long time ago” and said, “If you don’t want liberal extremists to run your lives, then today we say welcome to the Republican Party.”

The outreach may not expand the president’s meager support among African-Americans, but it appeared aimed at reassuring suburban white voters discomfited by his use of racist tropes and incendiary language. Mr. Trump has played to the nation’s raw racial divide as no other president has in the modern era, repeatedly stoking public feuds with African-American athletes and lawmakers while describing Latin American migrants as marauding invaders and rapists.

Over the summer, he demanded that four liberal Democratic congresswomen of color “go back” to their home countries, even though three were actually born in the United States and the other was a naturalized citizen. He went after Representative Elijah E. Cummings, Democrat of Maryland, describing his Baltimore district as a “disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess” where “no human being would want to live.” Mr. Cummings died last month from a long illness.

Mr. Trump has insisted over the years that he is the “least racist person you’ve ever met” and said it is his critics who use race as a weapon against him. Some of his supporters amplified that argument at Friday’s event in Atlanta.

“Let me tell you something, if he’s a racist, he’s an awfully bad one,” Ben Carson, the secretary of housing and urban development and the only African-American in the cabinet, said in introducing the president. “He needs to go get a lesson from the real racists.”

Yet Mr. Carson obliquely acknowledged that Mr. Trump was not popular among African-Americans. “Thank you for your courage to be here,” he told the audience, assailing what he portrayed as the tyranny of the politically correct left. “It takes a lot of courage to say you’re supporting President Trump.”

The event was like a Trump rally in miniature. Instead of a large stadium, it was held in a conference room with about 400 people. Among them were some of Mr. Trump’s most loyal African-American supporters, including Herman Cain, the pizza mogul turned 2012 presidential candidate; Alveda King, a niece of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and anti-abortion leader; and Lynnette Hardaway and Rochelle Richardson, two African-American sisters and internet stars better known as Diamond and Silk.

It did not go unnoticed on social media that at least a couple of the people wearing “Blacks for Trump” were actually white. The president asked the crowd whether they preferred “Blacks for Trump” or “African-Americans for Trump” and they began chanting, “Blacks for Trump! Blacks for Trump!”

Mr. Trump received about 8 percent of the black vote in 2016 and has an approval rating of about 10 percent among African-Americans. A poll by The Associated Press and NORC Center for Public Affairs Research last month found that 81 percent of African-Americans believe he has made things worse for people of color while just 4 percent say he has made them better.

The president pointed to the record-low unemployment and poverty rate among African-Americans, his support for opportunity zones to promote development of impoverished areas, his financing for historically black colleges and university and the passage of the First Step Act expanding job training and early-release programs and modifying sentencing laws for nonviolent drug offenders.

“We’re undoing the damage inflicted by decades of corrupt Democratic rule,” Mr. Trump said.

He was correct in saying that African-American unemployment had fallen to a low, but what he did not mention was that the drop began under President Barack Obama. From a high of 16.8 percent in March 2010 as the economy was recovering from the Great Recession, it fell to 7.7 percent in January 2017 when Mr. Obama left office. Since Mr. Trump took office, it has continued to fall to 5.4 percent, meaning that it came down by just over 9 percentage points under Mr. Obama and more than 2 percentage points so far under Mr. Trump.

Likewise, Mr. Trump’s boast that African-American poverty is at a record low is true. But again, it is a trend that started under his predecessor. The poverty rate among African-Americans fell from a high of 27.4 percent after the recession to 21.8 percent in 2016, Mr. Obama’s last full year in office, according to census data. It has continued to fall under Mr. Trump to 20.7 percent last year.

But there was no guarantee it would continue when Mr. Trump came to office and he has claimed the progress as among his proudest achievements. And he promised to do more. “I just want to tell you,” he said, “the best is yet to come.”

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