Donald Trump’s Speech: A Pitch for Black Votes in 2020

People wait for US President Donald Trump during a rally at the Georgia World Congress Center to court African American votes November 8, 2019, in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski / AFP) (Photo by BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images
BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images

President Donald Trump’s 2020 State of the Union speech was a sustained, full-court press to win over some of the millions of black voters who are enjoying his lower-migration, higher-wage “Blue-Collar Boom.”

CNN commentator Van Joes pulled the alarm for Democrats. “What he was saying to African-Americans can be effective. You may not like it … [but] we’ve got to wake up.”

The speech showcased Trump’s successful push for goals favored by both whites and blacks. These included higher wages, charter schools, government healthcare, protecting government programs from illegal migrants, protecting religious rights, and lower unemployment. He said:

Since my election, the net worth of the bottom half of wage-earners has increased by 47 percent — 3 times faster than the increase for the top 1 percent. After decades of flat and falling incomes, wages are rising fast — and, wonderfully, they are rising fastest for low-income workers, who have seen a 16 percent pay-increase since my election. This is a blue collar boom.

His pitch to black voters was very direct:

The unemployment rates for African-Americans, Hispanic-Americans, and Asian-Americans have reached the lowest levels in history. African-American youth unemployment has reached an all-time low. African-American poverty has declined to the lowest rate ever recorded.

But his speech also included touching, telegenic moments that can be endlessly replayed in campaign ads aimed at white and black voters.

Trump provided a surprise scholarship to a young black girl, touted vocational training for a black veteran of the 9/11 wars. offered hope for an astronaut career to the pre-teen grandchild of a 100-year old African-American pilot from World War II, and then he announced the pilot’s promotion to general.

White House

In 2016, Trump got less than four percent of votes from black women — but more than ten percent among black men. That added up to roughly eight percent of a lower-turnout black vote  — and it was enough for him to squeeze into the White House via the Democrats’ collapsing “Blue Wall.”

In September 2019, CNN reported that Trump is supported by 15 percent of black men and by just three percent of black women, or nine percent of the black vote.

“I’ve seen four polls that suggested [Trump’s] numbers are over 30 percent” among black men, South Carolina Republican Sen. Tim Scott told Fox News shortly before the speech. Even assuming that few black women vote for Trump, “he can be between 14 and 16 percent in 2020,” Scott said. “That would be pretty phenomenal — game over.”

Trump’s campaign has launched a team to win over black voters, Politico reported in December:

Katrina Pierson, a Trump 2020 adviser who is helping to spearhead the project, said she was aware of the skepticism. But by reaching out to black voters, she argued, Trump is finding people willing to hear his message.

“It’s going to be tough work,” said Pierson, who serves as the narrator in the radio ads. “No one thinks it’s going to be easy.”

Democrats are rattled by Trump’s outreach — and by the possibility that the outreach could reduce opposition among white college graduate women.

“He has a strategy,” commentator and strategist Van Jones told CNN, adding:

He revealed his strategy: He’s gonna double down on the red-meat base, he’s gonna push hard against Latinos  … He’s gonna go for the black vote, try to shave it off. Now you know.

Now that means if you’re a Democrat you gotta think well, which of these candidates is going to really be able to energize and hold onto the black vote? Which these candidates will be able to connect with the Latino vote? … Who speaks to working-class concerns? If you’re not thinking about that clinically, then you’re going to wind up being emotional about it.

Trump does not need to win a large share of the black vote. “It’s not about whether or not he can change enough minds to get him to 98 percent of the black vote,” Paris Dennard, a Republican strategist, told Politico. “You can move the needle ever so slightly in certain cities and certain counties,” he said, so helping Trump win states and their vital votes in the Electoral College.

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