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Trump's Outreach To Black Voters May Really Be About White Voters


Donald Trump will head to Detroit tomorrow to reach out to black voters. He'll make his first appearance as a candidate at a black church, where he'll be interviewed by the pastor of the Great Faith Ministries International. That Q&A is expected to be closed to the public and the media. And some say the trip is less about the black vote than it is about trying to win the liberal white vote. NPR's Sam Sanders takes a look.

SAM SANDERS, BYLINE: So far, Donald Trump's outreach to black voters has sounded like this.


DONALD TRUMP: What do you have to lose? You're living in poverty. Your schools are no good. You have no jobs. Fifty-eight percent of your youth is unemployed. What the hell do you have to lose?

SANDERS: Not the most subtle remarks. And on top of the tone, Trump's been making remarks like these about black people in front of almost all-white audiences. The reviews on all this have not been great. But I wanted to get an expert opinion.

LEAH WRIGHT RIGUEUR: The name of my book is "The Loneliness Of The Black Republican: Pragmatic Politics And The Pursuit Of Power."

SANDERS: I called up Leah Wright Rigueur. She teaches public policy at Harvard. She pointed out a few issues with Trump's black outreach so far. For one, she wants to hear some nuance.

WRIGHT RIGUEUR: And this includes being able to talk about issues that are of concern to African-Americans in ways that aren't either repressive or, you know, cartoonish.

SANDERS: She says Trump has to make sure he's not suggesting all black people's lives are just all awful and, instead, offer some specific policy proposals. Wright Rigueur says, so far, Trump is doing worse with black voters than any recent GOP candidate for president.

WRIGHT RIGUEUR: This includes Richard Nixon. This includes Gerald Ford. This includes Ronald Reagan. It includes George H.W. Bush, and it includes George W. Bush. So...

SANDERS: So you're saying all of the recent GOP presidents have done better than Trump when it comes to black outreach?

WRIGHT RIGUEUR: Yes, they have (laughter). All of the GOP candidates prior to Trump have actually spoken to black audiences.

SANDERS: But not everyone thinks Trump's black outreach - so far - has been off the mark.

What grade would you give Donald Trump's black outreach?

BEN CARSON: I would give him an excellent grade on that - A because he's actually trying.

SANDERS: That's Dr. Ben Carson, former candidate for president and now a Trump surrogate. He's actually going to Detroit with Trump tomorrow. They'll attend a black church service, and then Trump will give an interview to a black pastor. I told Carson that one poll had Trump at 1 percent with black voters. Carson said it's not that bad.

CARSON: Had a subsequent poll taken last week which showed he was up to 8 percent - and I expect that percentage should continue to go up as he addresses the issue.

SANDERS: And, Carson says, there are a lot of issues to be addressed - prison reform, education reform, trade policy and how it affects black people. Randal Pinkett won Donald Trump's reality show, "The Apprentice," and he says Trump probably can't do all that.

RANDAL PINKETT: Donald has had no history of engaging with the black community. And, in fact, quite the opposite - Donald's history is - has been adversarial with the black community.

SANDERS: Pinkett worked for Trump's company for a year. He points out that Trump was sued for housing discrimination in the '70s. And most recently, Trump led the birther movement, which claimed America's first black president wasn't really a U.S. citizen. And, Pinkett says, from what he saw while working for Trump, we shouldn't expect any shift.

PINKETT: From my experience, Donald is oftentimes not receptive to advice that does not reinforce what Donald already thinks is the right thing to do.

SANDERS: So what we've seen so far in his black outreach might be all we get. But Pinkett did say if Trump is asking for advice, his would be simple - talk less, listen more. Sam Sanders, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sam Sanders is a correspondent and host of It's Been a Minute with Sam Sanders at NPR. In the show, Sanders engages with journalists, actors, musicians, and listeners to gain the kind of understanding about news and popular culture that can only be reached through conversation. The podcast releases two episodes each week: a "deep dive" interview on Tuesdays, as well as a Friday wrap of the week's news.