PoliticsDonald Trump Can’t Even Pander to White Voters The Right Way
Hey man, your dogwhistle is busted.
For a guy running for president as an unrepentant white nationalist, Donald Trump sure does seem fixated suddenly on winning over minority voters. In the coming weeks, according to The Washington Post, Trump will embark on “a full-fledged strategy to court black and Latino voters” that will include “stops at churches, charter schools, and small businesses in black and Latino communities” and possibly even a tour of inner-city Detroit guided by Ben Carson. You might have noticed that already Trump has been using his stump speech to urge African-Americans and Latinos to support him. “What do you have to lose?” he asks.
The chances that any of these ploys will win Trump a respectable share of the African-American and Latino votes are slim to none. As Larry Sabato has noted, Trump is currently polling between 1 and 2 percent among black voters—lower even than George Wallace’s 3 percent in 1968. Among Hispanic voters, meanwhile, Hillary Clinton is leading Trump by almost 50 points.
But, of course, as any sentient political observer realizes, Trump’s minority outreach isn’t about minorities at all. Rather, it’s about convincing white swing voters—soccer moms and patio dads in the suburbs and exurbs—that he’s not an irredeemable racist. This version of “minority outreach” has been a tried-and-true tactic in recent years for myriad Republicans, who’ve made a big show of visiting black churches and securing the endorsements of Hispanic leaders—not because they think it will help them loosen the Democrats’ stranglehold on minority voters but because it will signal to moderate white voters that they’re acceptable.
The problem for Trump is that, even for white voters, he’s still sending exactly the wrong signal. Consider how he couches his supposed pitch to minority voters: He caricatures their communities as almost bleak hellscapes—“dens of crime, poverty, and shiftlessness,” as The Atlantic’s David Graham nicely put it—that only he can save. This is Trump, speaking in Ohio on Monday:
“Poverty. Rejection. Horrible education. No housing, no homes, no
ownership. Crime at levels that nobody has seen. You can go to war
zones in countries that we are fighting and it’s safer than living in
some of our inner cities that are run by the Democrats.”
This sort of talk not only repels minorities, who don’t recognize their own communities in Trump’s portrayal of them, it also doesn’t appeal to moderate white voters. Sure, these white voters are troubled by various urban ills, but they prefer their discomfort to take the form of benevolent concern rather than abject horror. It better reflects their own good intentions.
To reach these voters, Republicans typically take a different approach. Like the one North Carolina Republican Senator Richard Burr has adopted in his tough reelection race. Given the partisan and racial polarization in his state, it’s doubtful that Burr will do much better than Trump with minority voters. But you wouldn’t know that from his recent ad featuring a black minister named Kirby Jones, who, over images of adorable black children intently concentrating on their schoolwork, offers a testimonial about how Burr’s efforts on behalf of education show that he’s “genuinely interested in our community, in our children.”
The big question—and the big challenge—for Trump going forward is whether his much ballyhooed minority outreach takes the form of Republicans like Burr. If it does, that might indicate that Trump is finally pivoting. If not, it’ll confirm that Trump is running the same racialist campaign aimed at stirring the resentments of racist white voters that he’s been conducting all along.
Jason Zengerle is GQ’s political correspondent