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Opinion: Does Trump think he can win Black voters by offending us?

Opinion by Sophia A. Nelson

(CNN) — It’s always been a hard sell for Donald Trump to claim that he is getting strong support among Black voters. In 2016, he garnered a dismal 6% of the Black vote and only managed to increase that to 8% in 2020, according to an analysis of “validated voters” conducted by Pew Research.

It’s not a great boast for a political party founded as an anti-slavery, pro-abolition party in 1854. And a party that, up through the presidency of Dwight Eisenhower in 1956, carried the lion’s share of Black voters in the south and around the nation.

Fast forward to 2024, and the former president seems to be courting Black voters to return to the party — well kinda — in a very unusual and very offensive way to this Black female conservative former Republican.

At the Black Conservative Federation gala in South Carolina last Friday, Trump received the “Champion of Black America” award. In his lengthy address, Trump went into a monologue of unorthodox — and some would say outright racist — comments about Black people and his supposedly unique connection to them.

“I got indicted a second time and a third time and a fourth time, and 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. “I’m being indicted for you, the American people. I’m being indicted for you, the Black population.”

He said of his Fulton County mug shot, “You know who embraced it more than anyone else? The Black population.” The crowd, which was not entirely made up of Black conservatives but White attendees too, seemed to applaud his remarks and laugh with him as well. That truly offended me and many other Black Americans.

Wheew. Trump’s remarks are a lot to unpack. I’ll try.

Do I think Trump is right that there are some Black voters of a certain age and socioeconomic demographic in America who feel unfairly targeted, profiled or vilified by the criminal justice system in America? Absolutely. Do I think that those same voters, or those who have lost their voting rights due to having felonies on their record, feel some sympathy for Trump’s plight? I do. I heard it firsthand this summer in the Black hair salon I go to weekly.

But that is where this bogus effrontery argument begins and ends. I can’t see how the Republican nominee, whoever he or she is, will fare well with Black voters writ large — particularly those of us who were Republicans, conservatives and center-right independents who have since abandoned the GOP and now define ourselves as never-Trumpers.

Why did many principled Black conservatives in the vein of historic Republican Sen. Edward Brooke of Massachusetts or the late Gen. Colin Powell and others abandon the GOP? Because, in my opinion as a Black Republican for over 25 years, tea party radicals, White nationalists and culture warriors railing against DEI, wokeism and even voting rights have plagued the party that once rallied behind former presidential nominee Mitt Romney. Earlier this month it was “Trump sneakers,” and now it’s Black people who love his mug shot and wear it on their T-shirts.

How crude and ignorant of him to think that Black voters would care about his mug shot. We care about taxes, education, reproductive rights, voting rights and the other things all voters care about. We do not give a darn about T-shirts or sneakers, and mostly don’t care about or relate to his claims of being treated unfairly by the criminal justice system. Recent polling data shows that Black voters still overwhelmingly support President Joe Biden. We do not, as a whole, support Trump. Why on Earth would we?

Let’s be honest about who Trump is. He is the man who took out ads in New York newspapers calling for the state to adopt the death penalty after the arrest of the “Central Park Five” — the now-exonerated five men of color accused in the 1989 rape. When Trump was asked in 2019 about their vacated convictions and whether he would apologize, he replied, “They admitted their guilt.”

This is the real estate mogul whose family’s company was sued by the Justice Department in the 1970s after allegedly discriminating against Black renters. This is the man who allegedly called our military men and women “suckers” and “losers.” In 2020, Black soldiers comprised approximately 21% of the active-duty Army, 15% of the Army National Guard and 21% of the Army Reserve, rates that are higher than their representation in the US population. Is Trump really the commander-in-chief they want?

Bottom line: Biden has my vote, not because I stopped being a center-right conservative but because he has been a great president for Black women and America. Biden gave us the first female vice president (who happens to be a Black and South Asian woman) and first Black female Supreme Court justice. He has canceled student debt, which helped me and millions of Black Americans who are disproportionately affected by staggering predatory student loans. He is a strong leader on international matters, and he is a devoted supporter of American democracy.

To any of my fellow African Americans who might be considering voting for Trump, I would simply say, “Caveat emptor.” Buyer beware.

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