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Why Trump Shouldn't Write Off the Black Vote

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Why Trump Shouldn't Write Off the Black Vote

The Wall Street Journal August 3, 2016
OtherCulture & Society

His success in business could help him explain how liberal policies have hurt African-Americans.

President Obama announced the death of Osama bin Laden on May 1, 2011, a Sunday night. The major networks interrupted their prime-time programming to air the president’s remarks, and ABC drew the largest audience because most people were already watching “Dancing with the Stars.” But NBC had the largest black television audience for the president’s speech, and the reason was Donald Trump.

The class warfare practiced by liberals stems from a belief that poor minorities sit around resenting white wealth, or should. The reality is that ghetto residents don’t hate Bill Gates.

Mr. Trump’s reality television show, “Celebrity Apprentice,” consistently performed well with black viewers. Partly this is because they seem to like the genre. Even cable channels popular with blacks, like BET and VH1, are reality-heavy. “Celebrity Apprentice” also regularly featured black contestants, and we all like to watch people on TV who look like us.

But Mr. Trump had more than that working in his favor. His phenomenal success as a businessman, and his unabashed pride in his success, also appealed to black audiences. He was rich and wanted everyone to know it. He slapped his name, in the biggest letters possible, on buildings, jets, resorts, casinos and everything else he owned. He surrounded himself with glamorous people and objects. He personified the showy displays of wealth featured in hip-hop music. For many blacks, Mr. Trump’s bling and brashness were as impressive as his net worth.

The class warfare practiced by liberals stems from a belief that poor minorities sit around resenting white wealth, or should. The reality is that ghetto residents don’t hate Bill Gates. They want to be Bill Gates. One of the most successful rap labels in the 2000s was co-founded by Jay Z and called Roc-A-Fella Records, a slang spelling of the Rockefellerfamily name that’s long been synonymous with wealth. Jay Z grew up in a housing project in Brooklyn. He wasn’t envious of the superwealthy. He was a go-getter, and today he’s worth more than $600 million, according to Forbes.

When Donald Trump decided to run for president as a Republican, he already had a standing with black America that most GOP politicians can only dream of. The mystery is why he hasn’t capitalized on it, or really even attempted to. Republican outreach to blacks over the decades has wavered between lame and nonexistent. Until recently, the party wagered that it didn’t need many minority votes to win national elections and therefore focused its turnout efforts elsewhere. But after President Obama defeated Mitt Romney four years ago, Republican leaders began to change their tune.

“If we believe our policies are the best ones to improve the lives of the American people, all the American people, our candidates and officeholders need to do a better job talking in normal, people-oriented terms and we need to go to communities where Republicans do not normally go to listen and make our case,” the Republican National Committee said in an assessment of the 2012 election. “We need to campaign among Hispanic, black, Asian, and gay Americans and demonstrate we care about them, too.”

The advice seems sound. According to the Pew Research Center, 48% of voters either identify as Democrats or lean Democratic, while just 39% identify as Republicans or lean Republican. Popular vote totals have gone Democratic in five of the past six presidential elections, and Mr. Obama won re-election by a not-very-close five million votes. The Republican “establishment” candidates who ran this year—Jeb Bush,Marco Rubio,John Kasich—embraced this message of inclusion and ran campaigns designed to appeal to more people. Of course, they all lost to Mr. Trump, whose rhetoric toward women, veterans, the disabled, immigrants, Mexicans and others suggests that he has no use for this playbook.

Mr. Trump hasn’t (yet) offended blacks to the extent that he’s offended other groups, but neither has he given many of them a reason to vote for him. Imagine if Mr. Trump took time to campaign in places like Jay Z’s old neighborhood and talk to the residents about why so many lots are empty, why all those buildings are boarded up, why foreign nationals run so many of the small businesses, why the bodega charges so much for milk and eggs, why good schools and jobs are so scarce. He could explain why the Democratic politicians they continue to support have made so little progress in these communities. He could explain how he would do things differently. Mr. Trump, billionaire developer, would have both the knowledge and credibility to discuss these matters. And he would have an audience, likely a big one.

Mr. Trump is uniquely positioned to suggest alternative policy solutions to a group of voters who may be less willing to hear out other Republicans. To date, however, he’s shown little interest in even trying. Instead, Mr. Trump has largely written off the black vote, which may be the most Republican thing about him.

This piece originally appeared in The Wall Street Journal


Jason L. Riley is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a columnist at The Wall Street Journal, and a Fox News commentator.