MARY REICHARD, HOST: It’s Wednesday the 19th of February, 2020. Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Mary Reichard.
MEGAN BASHAM, HOST: And I’m Megan Basham. First up: Washington Wednesday.
Late last year, President Trump’s reelection campaign rolled out a bold effort to reach black voters. It’s called Black Voices for Trump.
African American voters have supported Democrats by wide margins for more than 50 years. But President Trump believes economic realities could convince some voters to switch their allegiance.
He made his case repeatedly during the State of the Union address earlier this month.
TRUMP: We are advancing with unbridled optimism and lifting our citizens of every race, color, religion, and creed very, very high. The unemployment rate for African Americans, Hispanic Americans, and Asian Americans has 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.
REICHARD: Positive statistics, certainly, yet the president has had a tough time making his case broadly to African American voters.
But there are some policies of the Trump administration that align more closely with black voters’ values than that of any of the Democratic candidates. And that could make enough of a difference in November to send the president back to the White House.
BASHAM: Joining us now to talk about it is Jamie Dean. She’s national editor for WORLD Magazine and wrote about Black Voices for Trump in the latest issue. Good morning, Jamie!
BASHAM: Let’s start by getting a sense of how many African American voters typically choose the Democratic candidate. What do the statistics tell us?
JAMIE DEAN, NATIONAL EDITOR: They tell us that well over 90 percent of African American voters have chosen the Democratic candidate over the last few decades. In 2008, about 98 percent of black voters supported President Barack Obama. That was a particularly high number, but the trend continued in 2016, when only about 8 percent of African Americans voted for President Trump.
BASHAM: Why do such a high percentage of African Americans vote for Democratic candidates?
DEAN: It’s a complex issue, and I think there are a lot of factors that go into it. But we do know that black voters have overwhelmingly voted for Democrats since President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
During that same year, Sen. Barry Goldwater was the Republican nominee for the presidency, and he voted against the Civil Rights Act, largely because he said he thought the legislation itself presented constitutional problems.
Whatever the reason, it really did represent a turning point for black voters, and they’ve supported Democratic nominees ever since. And I think it’s worth saying that Republicans haven’t tried terribly hard to win back those voters in large numbers. Maybe they think they just can’t win, so they don’t really try in systematic, sustained ways. I think that’s been part of the issue too.
BASHAM: It looks like the Trump campaign is trying?
DEAN: It does. In 2016, his pitch to black voters was pretty blunt. He basically said: What do you have to lose?
This time around, he’s trying to build a more robust case: He’s talking about black unemployment hitting an all-time low, he’s talking about the increased funding for historically black colleges and universities, and he’s talking about the passage of criminal justice reform.
The Trump campaign is also spending money. By the end of last year, they had already spent about a million dollars on outreach to black voters. As you noted, they’ve organized a coalition called Black Voices for Trump.
So you have the campaign spending money and the candidate talking about black outreach early in the process, instead of late in the game—and all of that does look like an attempt to reach black voters in a way we haven’t seen in some time.
BASHAM: Are there any signs that this could work?
DEAN: Well, I don’t think anyone expects a large surge of black voters to flock to President Trump in November. But in a tight election, he wouldn’t need a large surge—he might need to peel away just enough voters to tip a contest in a swing state or two.
That brings us to the famous swing state of Florida, where I think we have a really interesting example of how black Democratic voters have tipped an election for a Republican.
In 2018, Republican Ron DeSantis was running against Democrat Andrew Gillum in Florida’s race for governor. DeSantis had tied his campaign pretty closely to President Trump. The president even campaigned for DeSantis in Florida.
On Election Night, the results were razor thin, and the Republican narrowly edged out the Democrat. What’s interesting is that exit polls reported about 100,000 black women voted for the Republican over the Democrat.
That’s significant because about 100,000 low-income students in Florida participate in a program that offers tax-funded scholarships to attend private schools. And the Democrat in the governor’s race had spoken out against school choice programs.
So it appears that at least some number of the mothers of those children voted for a Republican instead of a Democrat because of the issue of school choice—and that their votes likely helped tip the election.
BASHAM: Do you think school choice will be an issue for black voters in this election?
DEAN: I think it already is. At several Democratic debates, there has been a group of demonstrators outside, protesting the Democratic candidates. And their signs say things like: “Black Democrats want charters.”
These demonstrators are part of a charter school coalition that is upset with Democratic candidates because most of the contenders haven’t supported school choice. Sen Bernie Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren have said they would put a moratorium on funding for charter schools.
Charter schools tend to be popular among black voters. Some charter schools do fail, but plenty of parents have praised their successes, particularly among low-income students looking for better educational options.
So I think this is an issue to keep an eye on in the 2020 election, particularly as President Trump has begun talking more about supporting school choice.
BASHAM: What about President Trump’s rhetoric? How does the some of the things he says on Twitter, for example, influence what black voters might think about him?
DEAN: A recent Washington Post poll certainly suggests that Trump has plenty of issues with black voters. This particular poll reported eight out of ten black respondents said they think President Trump is racist. That’s obviously a problem for him.
Last year, he tweeted that a predominantly African American district in Baltimore was a “disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess.” This was part of a conflict he had with Congressman Elijah Cummings, who represented that district until his death late last year.
I spoke with Dean Nelson, who is a black minister and an adviser to the Black Voices for Trump coalition. And I asked him about Trump’s rhetoric. He said that he was in a meeting with other black pastors who challenged the president to take care in how he communicates to African American communities.
We’ll see if that happens as the year unfolds. Either way, I think the president probably knows he has a steep hill to climb with many black voters, and we’ll see how he handles it.
BASHAM: Did you get a sense of whether it can be difficult for a black voter to publicly support Trump or other Republicans?
DEAN: I’ll give you an example: When Republican Brian Kemp won Georgia’s gubernatorial election over Democrat Stacey Abrams in 2018, an exit poll showed that about 11 percent of black male voters had voted for the Republican.
The Washington Post ran an editorial with the headline: “What’s up with all those black men who voted for the Republican in the Georgia governor’s race?” That editorial quoted a Boston Globe column that chastised black men for voting for a Republican, and said the GOP is “unabashedly the part of white supremacy.”
I think it’s safe to say there are black voters who would find that condescending. I spoke with black supporters of President Trump who said, “I have a right to think for myself and pick the candidate I deem most fit for the job.” Several of those voters said they’ve been called an Uncle Tom and a sell-out for voting for Republicans.
And some of them have been voting for Republicans for years because of issues like abortion or the economy. For them, it isn’t necessarily just about Trump, but about the underlying issues that drive them as voters.
I think that’s something that we need to keep watching over the course of 2020. Beyond the Trump candidacy, what are the underlying issues that drive voters, and how will they grapple with those in the ballot box—whatever their race?
BASHAM: Jamie Dean is national editor for WORLD Magazine. She is heading up coverage of the 2020 election for WORLD. Thanks so much for joining us today.
DEAN: Thanks, Megan.