Maggie Haberman and Annie Karni, New York Times, May 12, 2020
Since he took office, President Trump and his advisers have made a show of trying to chip away at the overwhelming support that Democrats enjoyed from black voters in the 2016 presidential campaign.
Even as Mr. Trump himself has offended people with language widely seen as racist, like telling four congresswomen of color to “go back” to countries where they came from (three of them were born in the United States), his campaign poured $10 million into a Super Bowl ad featuring a black woman and highlighting the administration’s efforts on criminal justice reform. Trump advisers held events at the White House celebrating Mr. Trump’s support for historically black colleges. The advisers sought to turn the low unemployment rate into a selling point to African-American voters, claiming they had more opportunities for jobs with higher wages.
And most recently, the president’s re-election campaign has been holding weekly online gatherings titled “Black Voices for Trump” where African-American surrogates advertise his record.
But these efforts to gain more black support, if only marginally, have now run into one of the grimmest realities of the coronavirus: It is killing African-Americans at disproportionately high rates, and depriving them of jobs in high numbers as well.
Mr. Trump has only fleetingly addressed the virus’s outsize impact on black Americans, and made no apparent effort to aggressively tackle the racial disparities, even as he continues his online appeals to black voters. Taken together, his lack of response, combined with political overtures, have cast into sharper relief his insensitivity about the unique concerns facing black Americans.
A CNN poll released on Tuesday shed light on the challenge Mr. Trump faces with black voters. About 54 percent of black adults reported knowing someone who had tested positive for Covid-19, according to the poll. That was in contrast to 38 percent of white adults and 36 percent of Latino adults.
In the survey, 79 percent of black respondents said the federal government had done a bad job trying to contain the virus. That was compared with 50 percent of white respondents and 55 percent of Latino respondents.
Mr. Trump won just 8 percent of African-American voters four years ago with a bleak message to minority voters — “What do you have to lose?” He remains deeply unpopular with black voters, so his appeal to win them over has been a game of inches. He is not looking for an outright victory among them, but simply to do better than he did last time.
Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, has pushed the efforts in the hope that even if Mr. Trump could increase his share of the black vote by as little as two percentage points, it could make a difference in the November election’s final outcome. Republicans and some Democrats privately see those efforts as aimed at reassuring suburban white voters who may not feel comfortable supporting Mr. Trump because of his divisiveness related to race.
In the year before the pandemic hit, what the campaign lacked in a concerted political strategy, it tried to make up for with tactics, starting with a “Black Voices for Trump” coalition that the president himself kicked off in November and continuing with plans to open Trump campaign storefronts in black neighborhoods in critical states like Florida and Pennsylvania. Campaign officials encouraged black voters to connect with the Trump operation by texting the word “woke” to its main number. Campaign officials even conducted polling to test the word “black” versus the term “African-American,” an official said, and concluded that black voters responded better to being referred to as “black.”
But Mr. Trump has lost most of his arguments as the economy has cratered.
Meanwhile, Mr. Trump’s advisers are cognizant that the virus is harming some of the black voters to whom the president had hoped to sell himself as the person who would help build a better economic life.
Mr. Trump has acknowledged the divide, telling reporters in April, “We’re doing everything in our power to address this challenge.” He added that black people were “getting hit very, very hard,” and that he had told the housing and urban development secretary, Ben Carson, to respond to those communities.