Trump slammed for remarks on Black voters

Former President Donald Trump has again sparked outrage with remarks he made last week about Black voters at an event in South Carolina.

The Republican presidential hopeful on Friday suggested that he could relate to the generations of racism that Black people have experienced in the U.S. legal system given the four criminal indictments brought against him. The cases have attracted more interest in his campaign among Black Americans, he argued at the Black Conservative Federation’s gala in Columbia, South Carolina, ahead of the state’s Republican primary.

Backlash followed.

“My first reaction was, ‘the caucasity of him to say that,’” Antjuan Seawright, a longtime Democratic strategist who has advised several national campaigns told theGrio. “It stems from a place of being fluent in privilege that he would even think that’s OK to say in a place like South Carolina and knowing our history with racism, bigotry and hate.” 

“He is speaking to [Black voters] in 2024 with the language that some deemed appropriate to use in 1964,” Seawright said.

One day after, Trump handily defeated former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, his last-remaining opponent for the Republican nomination.

The 2024 reelection campaign for President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris slammed the presumptive Republican nominee for his comments, calling him the “poster boy for modern racism.”

“This is the same man who falsely accused the Central Park 5, questioned George Floyd’s humanity, compared his own impeachment trial to being lynched, and ensured the unemployment gap for Black workers spiked during his presidency,” said Jasmine Harris, director of Black media for the Biden-Harris campaign. “Donald Trump has been showing Black Americans his true colors for years: An incompetent, anti-Black tyrant who holds us to such low regard that he publicly dined with white nationalists a week after declaring his 2024 candidacy.”

Cedric Richmond, the campaign’s senior advisor and a former Biden-Harris White House official, went as far as calling Trump’s remarks “racist.”

“He thinks Black voters are so uninformed that we won’t see through his shameless pandering. He has another thing coming,” Richmond said in a public statement. “Trust me when I say, in November, the very voting block that he continues to disrespect will make him eat these words.”

In addition to calling Biden a “racist,” Trump likened his 91 criminal charges and infamous mugshot to the plight of Black Americans.

“A lot of people said that that’s why the Black people like me, because they have been hurt so badly and discriminated against, and they actually viewed me as I’m being discriminated against,” Trump said Friday evening to the crowd at the Black conservatives group’s Annual BCF Honors Gala.

Former U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during the Black Conservative Federation Gala on February 23, 2024 in Columbia, South Carolina. (Photo by Sean Rayford/Getty Images)

Seemingly referring to the historical injustices Black Americans have faced within the U.S. criminal justice system, the twice-impeached former president argued that Black Americans “understand better than most that some of the greatest evils in our nation’s history have come from corrupt systems.” Those systems, he said, “try to target and subjugate others to deny them their freedom and to deny them their rights.”

Trump added, “I think that’s why the Black people are so much on my side now because they see what’s happening to me happens to them.”

After Trump was declared the winner in the GOP primary contest on Saturday, Biden called his comments “shameful” and “racist” and that they “tap into a hatred and divisiveness that is the very worst of us.”

Seawright accused Trump of using “language that almost says that we are still second-class citizens” and argued that most Black voters are smart enough to reject it.

Joel Payne, former director of African-American paid media for former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign, told theGrio that Trump’s attempt to compare his four criminal indictments to the plight of Black Americans was “not clever at all.”

“It’s insulting when you think about the real history of racial animus, bigotry and cultural bias within the criminal justice system,” said Payne, who said Trump’s Friday remarks were very clearly geared toward a specific portion of the Black electorate, namely Black men and rural Black voters who are less educated.  

“You’re asking Black men to do a lot of mental gymnastics if you’re saying that you, Donald Trump, who has had every financial advantage, every cultural advantage, are the same,” he explained. “That feels more insulting, and it feels very unstrategic.”

Seawright said Trump and Republicans will continue to use demeaning language unless they are “checked” by Black voters or those in positions of leadership. He blamed Black Republican leaders like Sen. Tim Scott, who dropped out the presidential race in November and later endorsed Trump, for enabling the former president’s rhetoric about Black people and race in America.

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Payne said that tactics like Trump’s remarks in South Carolina and selling “$400 tacky-looking sneakers” are unlikely to appeal to Black voters. However, he said it’s “very clear that Republicans are spending some capital, some time and some effort to think about creative ways to get their message in front of Black voters.” 

The Democratic strategist said that, regardless, Trump’s platform doesn’t appeal to Black men, as voting block polls show could be amenable to the Republican ticket in November.

“His economic message is not geared towards Black men or Black voters. He wants to give money back to the wealthy and well-connected,” Payne said. “His social justice record is not geared towards Black voters. He certainly is no friend of them there.”

“The only place that he can make that appeal is kind of a very clumsy cultural appeal.”

Approach aside, seeing both Democrats and Republicans’ aggressive appeal to Black voters reflects an evolution in the presidential electoral process, argued Seawright.

“You can win with us, but you can damn sure lose without us. I think that’s the general message,” he said. 

While the Biden-Harris campaign was quick to respond to Trump’s comments about Black voters, Payne said campaign operatives “cannot expect just the outrage of the latest thing that Donald Trump has said that might insult or offend some people to be your turnout machine.”

He recalled a major problem takeaway after Trump upset Clinton in the 2016 presidential election.

“One of the mistakes that I felt we collectively made was we got so distracted by the Trump show, and we probably could have spent a little bit more time on the meat and potatoes of prosecuting a case against Donald Trump,” Payne reflected.

“They’re going to have to earn and persuade Black voters this cycle … you’re still going to have to make a positive persuasive case,” he said. The way to do that, said Payne, is to “develop a strategy and stick to it and don’t allow the noise of the day or week or weekend to move you off of it.”

“The message, I think, for all Black voters is elevating the existential threat that Donald Trump is,” he advised.

Gerren Keith Gaynor

Gerren Keith Gaynor is a White House Correspondent and the Managing Editor of Politics at theGrio. He is based in Washington, D.C.

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Former President Donald Trump faced backlash for remarks made at a Black Conservative Federation’s gala in South Carolina, where he suggested Black voters support him due to facing similar challenges. This led to criticism from Democratic strategists and the Biden-Harris campaign, condemning Trump’s comments as racist and inappropriate. Trump compared his criminal indictments to the plight of Black Americans, further fueling outrage. Despite winning the GOP primary, Trump’s comments were deemed shameful and divisive by opponents. Analysts criticized Trump’s attempt to appeal to Black voters, stating that his platform does not align with their interests. The Biden-Harris campaign emphasized the need to make a positive case to Black voters and not be distracted by Trump’s rhetoric. Overall, the episode highlights the evolving strategies of both Democrats and Republicans in appealing to the Black electorate in the upcoming election.

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