Trump, RNC Courting African-American Voters Ahead of 2020

GOP chair confident Trump's accomplishments will resonate with communities of color

Getty Images
March 3, 2019

The Republican National Committee is making a concerted effort to court African-American voters ahead of the 2020 presidential election.

The decision reflects a growing list of accomplishments President Donald Trump can credibly point to in the realm of expanding economic opportunities for minorities.

"Look at the Obama administration and the unemployment rate in the African-American community under President Barack Obama, the stagnant wages, and then [contrast that with] what President Trump has done," Ronna Romney McDaniel, the RNC chairwoman, told the Washington Free Beacon at the annual TrailBlazer Awards ceremony on Wednesday. The event, started under the tenure of former RNC chairman Michael Steele to honor Black History Month, is meant to highlight the achievements of African-American conservative leaders.

What Trump "has done," according to McDaniel, is set in place policies to lead an economic resurgence within communities outside of the traditional GOP base. The president's early and relentless focus on tax reform has paid dividends by creating more than 5 million new jobs and pushing the African-American unemployment to a record low of 5.9 percent. The tax cuts, combined with targeted efforts to spur economic development through the opportunity zone initiative, has led to a boost in African-American small-business ownership.

The administration has also witnessed success in its efforts to expand access to education. Funding for school choice programs, which are primarily utilized by low-income families of color, has grown by more than $42 million since 2017. Likewise, funding for historically black colleges and universities has jumped by as much as 14 percent. The administration has further extended more than $300 million in loan forgiveness to HBCUs in the wake of weather-related natural disasters.

As McDaniel sees it, though, one of Trump's biggest feats was achieved by leading Democrats and Republicans to find common ground on criminal justice reform.

"I think it's a way for the president to tout that he delivered on a promise that had been made by many others, including President Obama, in a bipartisan way," the chairwoman said. "Recognizing that these mandatory sentences for nonviolent crimes were started under the Clinton administration and adversely affected minority communities, pulling families apart, keeping people incarcerated, and not able to contribute to society—people that have so much more to give." 

In December, after Trump's endorsement and extensive lobbying by administration officials, Congress passed the FIRST STEP Act with overwhelming bipartisan support. The legislation, among other provisions, shortened mandatory minimums for nonviolent drug offenses and eased the federal three-strikes rule that had disproportionately impacted minorities.

Despite the president's success, his administration's actions are not widely recognized and have received little attention from the national media. To get that message out, the RNC has launched a strategic initiative aimed at recruiting activists within the African-American community. Those partnerships have created opportunities for engagement in states like Florida, North Carolina, Wisconsin, and Colorado, among others.

In 2016, former secretary of state Hillary Clinton received 88 percent of the African-American vote, as shown by exit polling data from the race. The numbers, although impressive, were significantly lower than the 93 percent Obama garnered in his successful 2012 reelection campaign. Political scientists have attempted to explain the discrepancy by pointing out that overall turnout among African-American voters was lower in 2016 than 2012.

Few, however, have mentioned that Trump's share of the African-American vote was greater than Romney's, as denoted by the Roper Center for Public Opinion at Cornell University. In fact, the 2016 GOP ticket headed by Trump garnered the highest percentage of African-Americans voters since 2004.

That increase was partially why Trump became the first Republican to carry Michigan at the presidential level since 1988, according to McDaniel, who served as the state's GOP chair during the 2016 cycle.

"The African-American vote was critical for President Trump in winning Michigan in 2016 and I think part of the party's infrastructure was very helpful," the chairwoman said. "As Michigan party chair I had offices open for three years in Detroit, we engaged in the community, but also we had a candidate in President Trump who campaigned in Detroit."

McDaniel said that by going to "Wayne Jackson's church," Flint, and areas typically ignored by conventional Republicans, Trump challenged the GOP "to start showing up in communities that don't always vote for us and share our ideas and our values."

Data from the Michigan secretary of state's office indicate Trump received 15,000 more votes in Wayne County—where Detroit is located—than Romney in 2012. Although Trump still lost the county by a substantial margin, the increase helped him eke out a win over Clinton statewide by more than 10,000 votes.