Trump, in Pitch to Black Voters in Detroit, Casts Biden as Anti-Black


Former President Donald J. Trump, courting Black voters at a church on the west side of Detroit on Saturday, sought to harness animus toward migrants crossing the border, sanitized his track record on race and sold himself as the best president for Black Americans since Abraham Lincoln.

As he spoke to roughly 200 people, Mr. Trump largely ignored his history of racist statements and his decades of calls for tougher policing that have fueled his three presidential campaigns.

Instead, during short remarks before a panel with Black residents of Detroit at the city’s 180 Church, Mr. Trump tried to cast Mr. Biden as anti-Black, focusing intently on the president’s role in shepherding the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, a sweeping bill that criminal justice experts have said laid the groundwork for mass incarceration that disproportionately hurt America’s Black communities.

Mr. Trump, at one point, seemed determined to ensure that Mr. Biden’s role in the crime bill would be the event’s main takeaway. He falsely accused Mr. Biden of coining the term “super predators” and then insisted that those in the audience should not forget Mr. Biden’s role, as a U.S. senator, in championing the bill and helping pass it.

“He was the one with the super predators,” Mr. Trump said of Mr. Biden. “So just please remember that if you’re going to vote Democrat — because you shouldn’t vote Democrat.”

Mr. Trump’s visit was part of a larger effort by his campaign to chip away at Democrats’ traditional support among Black voters as he seeks to reverse his 2020 loss to Mr. Biden.

Though Black voters have overwhelmingly favored Democrats since the civil rights era, recent polls have shown the party losing some of their support. A New York Times/Siena College poll of battleground states in May showed 23 percent of Black voters supporting Mr. Trump, a record level. Mr. Trump won just 8 percent of Black voters nationally in 2020.

As he tries to appeal to Black voters, Mr. Trump often cites his record as president, but the reality is more complicated than what he often presents.

In Detroit, Mr. Trump highlighted the funding bill that he signed for Black higher education institutions, which Congress passed. And he celebrated his role in the First Step Act of 2018, his signature criminal justice reform bill.

But critics have said that Mr. Trump’s frequent pro-police rhetoric while president often undercut his work on criminal justice reform. And while he often takes credit for a low Black unemployment rate during his presidency, he frequently overstates his role in it and ignores other economic indicators.

Saturday’s round table in Detroit brought out a more diverse crowd, and a larger share of Black attendees, than is typical of a Trump campaign event, even as a significant number of the roughly 200 people in the crowd were white.

Angelo Brown, 61, a Black independent voter, said he had come to the event because he was still unsure which candidate he would vote for. And, he added, “the chances of an independent getting in there, you know, are almost zero.”

Though he did not support Mr. Trump in the previous two elections, Mr. Brown, who is retired, said he was open to a candidate who would help improve the economy and would bring about an end to the war in Ukraine.

At the church, Mr. Trump stuck to the themes that have animated his outreach to Black voters. He again tried to seize on pessimism over the economy by blaming Mr. Biden for inflation and high rents.

Mr. Trump also sought to stoke resentment toward immigrants, arguing that Mr. Biden had enabled the surge of migrants crossing into the United States, which he said had hurt the economic prospects of Black Americans. And he falsely claimed that “100 percent” of the job growth under the Biden administration had gone to illegal immigrants.

“They’re coming into your community, and they’re taking your jobs,” Mr. Trump said, repurposing an idea that successfully motivated his base of white working-class voters in 2016.

Mr. Trump’s appeals to Black voters in recent months have been aggressive and direct — but sometimes clumsy.

Shortly before Mr. Trump arrived at the church, his campaign started a renewed outreach effort for Black Americans, “Black Americans for Trump,” which included endorsements from Black politicians, former professional athletes and entertainment figures like the model and singer Amber Rose and the rapper Kodak Black, whom Mr. Trump pardoned.

This year, Mr. Trump has hawked gold sneakers to young men of color and suggested that Black people related to him more after his mug shot was taken in Atlanta last year. He told a group of Black Republicans that Black people like him because he, too, had been unfairly targeted by the criminal justice system. And he has frequently accused Black prosecutors investigating him of “reverse racism.”

After the church event, Mr. Trump spoke at a convention hosted by Turning Point Action, an arm of Turning Point USA, an increasingly influential conservative group that courts young voters. Turning Point’s founder, Charlie Kirk, has been criticized for statements and social media posts with anti-immigrant or racist views.

The juxtaposition of the two events reflects the extent to which the Trump campaign is trying to knit together a mixed — and at times conflicting — coalition that expands beyond his conservative base as he looks to pick up battleground states he lost in 2020, including Michigan.

“It’s an honor to be here,” Mr. Trump said at the church after he took the stage. “It’s a very important area for us.”

Such a sentiment was markedly different from the years in which Mr. Trump has denigrated Detroit, a majority Black city, which he previously referred to as one of America’s “most corrupt political places” while making broad and unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud in the 2020 election.

And during his 2020 campaign, as Mr. Trump was frequently trying to stoke suburban fears around violence and crime in cities, he said in an interview that living in Detroit and other cities was “like living in Hell.”

Jasmine Harris, Mr. Biden’s Black media director, criticized Mr. Trump for sanitizing both his past comments “denigrating and disrespecting Black Americans” and his record while in office.

“We haven’t forgotten that Black unemployment and uninsured rates skyrocketed when Trump was in the White House,” Ms. Harris said in a statement. “And we sure haven’t forgotten Trump repeatedly cozying up to white supremacists and demonizing Black communities to his political benefit — because that’s exactly what he’ll do if he wins a second term.”

Mr. Trump’s speech at the Turning Point event, in front of thousands of people, took place in the same convention center where his supporters had tried to interfere with the counting of absentee ballots in the 2020 election.

During his remarks, Mr. Trump repeated his blatantly false claims that the 2020 election was stolen from him, and he again sowed doubt about the integrity of the upcoming election.

As has become standard. Mr. Trump, who turned 78 on Friday, attacked Mr. Biden’s cognitive abilities. But as he argued that he is more mentally fit to be president, he referred to his White House doctor, Ronny Jackson, as “Ronny Johnson.”

Building on his comments about the economy at the church, Mr. Trump accused Mr. Biden of an “inflation-causing spending spree.” He then seemed to attack Mr. Biden’s commitment to Ukraine with an aside about Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky.

“I think Zelensky is maybe the greatest salesman of any politician that’s ever lived,” said Mr. Trump, who this year tried to block efforts to provide more aid to Ukraine. “Every time he comes to our country, he walks away with $60 billion.”

Simon J. Levien contributed reporting.



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