Imagine if Barack Obama were running for president now. Struggling at the polls after a clumsy convention featuring the combined star power of one 1980s sitcom actor and one 1990s underwear model, he decides to shake things up by reaching out directly to white voters.
“You’re obese,” he growls. “You sit so much it’s killing you. More of you are dying of opiates than from guns or car accidents. Middle-age white people are croaking faster while every other group on earth is living longer. Your kids can’t go to elementary school without getting shot. What the hell do you have to lose?”
You’d think that a white crowd might be offended by this so-called outreach — except the crowd is nearly all black. This makes sense because the campaign has purposely picked a black neighborhood of a mostly black city to deliver this “white outreach.”
Fox News might call this absurd spectacle a lot of things — like, maybe, its greatest paranoid fantasy come true. There might be a nine-part Sean Hannity special entitled See! I Told You So. Rush Limbaugh could experience an unprecedented natural high.
But if Obama attempted anything resembling Donald Trump’s recent forays into “winning” over the black vote, almost no one would accuse him of actually doing any real white outreach. And this just isn’t because black men are held to a different standard in America.
For instance, a black athlete’s refusal to stand during the national anthem provokes massive outrage and calls for him to be fired or deported. But a white man can spend years bashing the United States, insisting it’s filled with “losers” who elect “dummies,” and accusing our chief executive of being a foreign-born traitor who founded ISIL, and he’ll be punished with the Republican nomination for president.
It’s the world’s worst kept secret that Trump’s recent spate of “African-American outreach” isn’t designed to impress black voters.
Trump’s new campaign manager, pollster Kellyanne Conway, must have convinced her client that poll after poll showing him pulling in close to 0% of the black vote reinforces the perception that he’s a racist. That perception didn’t hurt him in the GOP primary. Heck, it might have helped. The general election, however, is different. Lots of people don’t want to vote for a racist, even if he has an airplane and various other phallic objects with his name on them.
This is one of the reasons Trump is the first Republican presidential candidate in years who is at risk of not winning a majority of white women voters, even though he has been married to more white women than any GOP nominee in the party’s history.
Even if they are attracted to an overcompensating authoritarian traveling circus of a campaign, many voters have no desire to see themselves as nurturing prejudice.
That’s why “Trump must carve a course between mobilizing voters with tales of racial peril and not obviously appealing to them as outright bigots,” explains law professor Ian Haney-López, author of Dog Whistle Politics: How Coded Racial Appeals Have Reinvented Racism and Wrecked the Middle Class.
Trump’s “black outreach” to white crowds in white suburbs is really GOP and independent outreach, which shows you how dimly the candidate views voters.
Trump’s constant characterization of black Americans as some unitary horde overcome with poverty, blight and unemployment seems to come from a mix of the 1970s sitcom Good Times, footage of a 1960s riot, and the comments section of the sort of “alt-right” website Trump’s new campaign CEO used to run.
In the nightmare scenario the GOP nominee sketches, the nation’s most reliable Democratic voting bloc is so mired in filth, so desperate and so seemingly oblivious to its own interests that its voters have “nothing to lose” by considering Trump — except maybe their health insurance, their voting rights and their ability to keep food down.
As far as persuasion tactics go, it’s somewhere on the spectrum between sweaty, overeager timeshare salesman and Dickens villain recruiting pickpockets.
It’s black outreach only a birther could love — or come up with.
But after a few weeks of shouting about black people to white crowds, even Trump recognizes that the visual isn’t reassuring. So he’s heading to Detroit to make his appeal directly to African-American voters in an actual African-American church this weekend.
A new Public Policy Polling survey finds that after half a month of this “outreach,” 97% of African Americans view Trump unfavorably; 3% aren’t sure, which still leaves exactly zero black voters impressed by him. Bubonic plague, mosquitoes and middle seats on airplanes were all more popular with black voters than Trump, which should make his visit to Motown interesting.
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