Columns like this appear every so often in conservative publications, particularly in the not-so-far-out period before Labor Day when everything is still up in the air as an election cycle begins to take shape. They posit that at some point Democrats will be made to pay the price for their poor performance with the black community, and that the 92 to 95 percent of the black vote that party has received simply isn’t sustainable.
It’s the conservative equivalent of “Wait ’til next year.”
The chasing of the black vote by Republican candidates is akin to the famous Peanuts meme, in which Lucy pulls the football before Charlie Brown can kick it. Instead of knocking home a field goal, Charlie finds himself flying through the air and landing on his back wondering why he fell for the gag once again.
So, yes, this is one of those columns. And you will not offend its author if you scoff at the idea this is finally the year the GOP dents the scoreboard with the black vote.
Frankly, I don’t know if I share the optimism myself. I’ve seen enough elections to know that modern American black voters are simply not fans of the GOP and some very major things have to happen before that will ever change. Capturing the black vote in toto has been the single most fervent political project of the Democrat Party over the past three quarters of a century and particularly over the last 60 years, and the lengths Democrats have gone to meet that end are beyond anything any other Western political party has dared. There is a whole column, or a book, to be written (and countless columns and books have already been produced) on that subject; I imagine the reader will stipulate that pandering, bait-and-switch plans, giveaways, and crackpot schemes aimed at fostering government dependency have been the order of the day for the Democrat Party since LBJ’s perhaps-apocryphal quote about how he’d have the “n****s voting Democrat for the next 200 years” issued forth.
The Democrats have been fabulously successful in capturing the black vote and even more fabulously successful holding it despite some truly miserable results governing the black community in places the Democrats control. They’ve been ruining cities since the 1960s and many — Detroit, Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, Newark, St. Louis, Jackson, New Orleans, now Minneapolis — are in such an advanced state of decline that it’s difficult to see any future for them. America’s urban areas are disproportionately populated by African-Americans; at some point you have to look at the full raft of misery afoot in those places and conclude that black votes simply have not produced black success in going to Democrats.
Along comes Donald Trump, who is the first GOP presidential candidate to take a somewhat aggressive and somewhat sophisticated approach to the black community. Trump hasn’t particularly pandered to black voters per se; what he’s done is directly challenge the Democrats’ narrative. In 2016 he asked the black community, “What have you got to lose?” in voting a different way because of the terrible performance of Democrats. That was a hard thing to sell, as Hillary Clinton did everything she could to tar Trump as a racist — something Democrats haven’t stopped doing since he came down that escalator in Trump Tower. This despite the fact Trump had been feted by Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, and other black political figures in the time before he entered the political ring.
At least some black voters remembered that.
Trump managed 8 percent of the 2016 black vote, according to exit polls, which was a relatively high water mark for a GOP candidate. Of course, Hillary Clinton wasn’t Barack Obama for obvious reasons; there were going to be a few more black votes available from 2012, when Mitt Romney got 6 percent, and 2008, when John McCain managed a paltry 4 percent.
How much of the black vote does Trump need this time?
Get to 12 percent and he probably can’t lose to Joe Biden. Get to 15 percent and you’re looking at an electoral landslide that calls to mind the Reagan–Mondale blowout of 1984.
And that 15 percent number is one to consider, because it’s the percentage of the black vote Richard Nixon was able to pull in the 1968 election.
The 1968 race isn’t really the perfect analogy to the Trump–Biden race we’ll see play out over the next 80-odd days. In 1968 it was Nixon, Hubert Humphrey, and George Wallace in a three-way race. Wallace, obviously, didn’t appeal too much to black voters. But Humphrey did, and not that successfully.
What was Nixon’s secret? He didn’t chase all of the black vote. He went after the pieces of it that were gettable. Nixon’s appeal to black voters talked about black-owned businesses, black home ownership, better schools in black neighborhoods, and, most of all, a law-and-order message blaming bad Democrat governance for the lawlessness on the streets in black neighborhoods. People remember the summer of 1968 and the chaos in America’s streets, and they think of that year as an emergence of angry black radical politics — the Black Panthers and the Black Power movement and so on. But the idea that there was monolithic support in the black community for those things is one fostered by popular culture, not objective reality; most black people were not political radicals then, and most are not now.
If they were, the Democrats wouldn’t have spent more than five decades attempting to convince black voters that all Republicans — and now, with the current cultural Marxist narrative, all white people — are racist.
The radical movement in 1968 failed. It failed again in 1972. It’s quite reasonable to look at what the Black Lives Matter movement has wrought, with riots in the streets of American cities that have burned black areas of town and reduced the quality of life for the black residents of those affected areas, and seeing history repeat itself.
Trump is absolutely the law-and-order candidate in the race. He is that despite not particularly having exerted himself to be so. Trump hasn’t surged the military into those Democrat-run cities to quell the violence. What little he has done has simply been to protect federal property. Yes, federal agents are arresting Antifa operatives on city streets, and the left-wing press has furiously likened it to Kristallnacht while saying nothing as a Soros-funded circuit attorney in St. Louis indicted a pair of homeowners for defending their property with legal firearms they didn’t even fire.
Trump has even signed off on a giant program of freeing federal prisoners, a disproportionate number of them being black.
But he’s the law-and-order candidate in the race because Biden can’t even condemn the rioters in the streets, as no one else in his party has done. And despite hot denials from his media lickspittles and party operatives, Biden’s platform absolutely calls for a drawdown in police funding. The platform says it’s for “redirecting” money from law enforcement to other things rather than defunding, but people aren’t stupid. And when more than four in five black voters say defunding the police is a bad idea, and the only people talking about defunding the police are Democrats, Joe Biden is now in a position to own that policy stupidity.
He’s also in a position to own the teachers’ unions and their idiotic refusal to go back to work, which makes Trump the education candidate in the race. Trump is talking about putting federal education dollars in the hands of parents where schools won’t reopen, which could well given educational freedom to millions of black parents who want badly to escape the failing government schools in their neighborhoods. The Democrats are talking about squashing that freedom once and for all — not just doing away with charter schools but even private schools. Black voters have been dissatisfied with Democrat educational politics for a long time, but haven’t made the Democrats pay for that dissatisfaction to date. Who’s to say that will continue forever?
There are more than enough members of the black middle class to get Trump to that 15 percent number, and another item in Biden’s platform could well be a deal-breaker for those people. Some 83 percent of Americans are with Trump, rather than Biden, on the latter’s idiotic idea to dismantle the suburbs through federal housing and zoning regulations, and while that idea is surely poison with suburban white women it’s likely to play even worse with middle-class blacks who have worked their tails off to escape the ghetto and get to the suburbs. To hear that the ghetto will follow them after they’ve sunk everything they have into a nice house with a lawn in a good school district isn’t likely to play well at all.
Middle-class blacks, particularly those who have moved to the suburbs and vote in precincts that are heavily white, are probably a lot more Republican than anybody knows. They could well be “shy voters” with respect to answering exit polls, and it’s difficult to discern by looking at precinct data how they voted. If a precinct is 10 percent black and goes 75 percent Republican, is that 10 percent automatically part of the 25?
Trump has an economic story to tell, which was largely ruined by COVID-19. Black unemployment was at an all-time low and black wages were very robust before the virus clobbered the economy. But Trump now can brag about a payroll tax holiday, which is a tax cut working-class and middle-class black voters will absolutely feel, and the Democrats are going to be on the outside looking in on that issue for the rest of the cycle.
And then there’s Biden’s mouth. Last week Biden said that “unlike the African-American community,” there’s a great deal of diversity of thought in the Latino community — a gaffe for the ages. Had a Republican produced such a racially judgmental utterance, what would be at issue is whether that Republican would be allowed to continue in politics. For Biden, it was a Tuesday. This is a man who told an African-American radio host that if he wouldn’t pull the lever for Slow Joe, “You ain’t black.” More recently he demanded another black interviewer, who asked him about taking a cognitive test, take a drug test and asked the interviewer, “Are you a junkie?”
Biden’s statements on racial issues show him to be as out-to-lunch with respect to race as his serial gropings and creepings do with respect to sex. It’s entirely reasonable to expect them to continue, if not worsen. He might even display such cranial flatulence to pop out a choice epithet the media can’t paper over (would you really be so surprised if he did?). At some point, he’s going to offend enough black voters to put that extra 4, 5, 7 or even 10 percent of the black vote in the middle.
Or perhaps not.
But one thing is true, despite the media’s refusal to recognize it. There is a core group of black voters that is larger than 15 percent who are open to voting for Trump.
Rasmussen has been polling Trump’s approval in the black community as high as the low 40s. Rasmussen’s monthly average for July had Trump at 36 percent approval among black voters. Of that 36 percent, most — 25 percent — registered strong approval.
Strong approval generally coincides with electoral support.
That 25 percent number was not a flash in the pan. It has shown up since at least June. It wouldn’t be unreasonable to think a politician could get 60 percent of a group of voters who tell pollsters they strongly approve of him.
Which means unless Rasmussen is dead wrong, that 15 percent number Nixon hit in 1968 could be within reach for Trump.
And interestingly, Trump might hit it for similar reasons to those that worked for Nixon back then. Democrats would, after all, much rather bowdlerize history than learn from it.