AUGUST 23, 2016
I go away for 6 days to celebrate my mother-in-law’s special birthday (Happy 96th, Ruth!), and when I come back, all hell has broken loose. That’s it…I’m never going away again.
On the day I left, Donald Trump had given a speech sympathizing with the plight of inner-city African Americans. The speech was advertised as being held in Milwaukee, the site of the recent police shooting of a 23 year-old black man, Sylville Smith, but the actual event was held in West Bend, about an hour from Milwaukee and is a community that is 95% white. But if Trump wants it to look like he’s getting down with the brothas, so be it.
Initially, Trump was praised for finally expressing his concern for African-Americans, a group that he has largely ignored throughout his campaign. But the aftertaste of his speech did not sit well with many black Americans. Such Trump pronouncements as, when he’s President, “you’ll be able to walk down the street without getting shot” and “It’s a disaster the way African-Americans are living” might have, arguably, been meant well, but to many African-Americans, his words felt like a back-handed insult.
Though the backlash against the speech began in earnest toward the end of last week, Trump doubled down (as usual) in a speech in Akron on Monday night:
“And I ask you this, I ask you this — crime, all of the problems — to the African Americans, who I employ so many, so many people, to the Hispanics, tremendous people: What the hell do you have to lose? Give me a chance. I’ll straighten it out. I’ll straighten it out. What do you have to lose?”
Words fail me. Granted, Trump has finally recognized that he has a problem with voters of color, particularly African-Americans. An NBC News poll released on Tuesday showed that Trump’s nationwide support among African-Americans hovering around 8%, with many states registering support for him between 0% & 1%.
However, the locations where Trump delivered those speeches (West Bend and later in Michigan and Virginia) were in heavily white districts with just a smattering of voters of color attending. That fact speaks volumes as to what Trump was actually trying to accomplish with this line of argument. Let’s get down to it. Trump doesn’t have the slightest interest in attracting African-American voters, whom he must correctly assume will go to Hillary Clinton. If he was, he would have accepted the invitations from non-white groups that were extended to him — this year’s NAACP convention, the National Urban League Conference and meetings of the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Black and Hispanic Journalists — all of which he ducked.
No, this week’s series of racial speeches was clearly aimed at white voters, specifically those college-educated white suburban Republicans who normally vote with the GOP but who may feel squeamish about voting for a candidate who may be a racist. Trump is losing college-educated whites — unprecedented for a Republican candidate — and the feeling may be that he can win them back if he lays off the racial attacks — just a little.
So ends Week 1 of the Trump campaign under new management. Last Wednesday, Trump announced that Steve Bannon, chairman of the extreme right-wing website Breitbart News, would become his campaign’s chief executive, while GOP pollster Kellyanne Conway would become the new campaign manager. Paul Manafort, who had been hired two months ago to be the adult in the room in an attempt to right the Trump campaign, was kept on, but, seeing the writing on the wall, he quit two days later.
The effects of both new hires were made quickly evident. Bannon’s nutty right-wing site soon floated suspicions that Hillary Clinton may have a brain tumor, while Conway’s more disciplined approach focused Trump on attacking her use of the Clinton Foundation to curry favor with world leaders, a tactic that will likely produce greater dividends. Whether Bannon and Conway will get Trump back on course remains to be seen, but clearly Trump had to shake things up.
After all, what the hell does he have to lose?