A ‘laundry list’ or an ‘impression’: Biden and Trump’s conflicting appeals to black voters

As President Biden took the stage in Philadelphia on Wednesday to launch his Black voter outreach agenda, he methodically reviewed more than a dozen accomplishments, executive orders, appointments, investments and economic statistics.

“The bottom line,” Mr. Biden said in summing up his argument: “we have invested more in Black America than any previous administration in history. »

It’s a compelling catalog that contrasts with the blunt appeal his rival, former President Donald J. Trump, made a week earlier on the economy at a rally in the Bronx meant to highlight its appeal to non-white voters.

“African-Americans,” Mr. Trump said, “are being massacred.”

Both events highlighted a fundamental difference between Black outreach, which both camps see as crucial to winning in 2024.

Mr. Biden has a list. Mr. Trump has a vibe.

Black voters are the very foundation of the Democratic coalition, vital voting elements in cities in the battleground states of Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Georgia and beyond. And while polls consistently show Mr. Biden winning a majority of black voters, his performance is below previous Democratic benchmarks, much to the concern of party loyalists and the delight of GOP operatives.

Mr. Trump has tried to characterize his four years in the White House as a time of peace and prosperity, hoping that voters — and black voters in particular — will remember those pre-inflationary days fondly and look beyond the disruptions from a pandemic that has wiped out American life. a shutdown for much of 2020.

“It’s a sensation,” Ja’Ron Smith, one of the most senior Black officials in the Trump White House, said in explaining the former president’s appeal to Black voters. “They know what it’s like to live under a Trump economy rather than a Biden economy.”

Mr. Trump has a long history of inflammatory and racist remarks that the Biden campaign has increasingly highlighted, and that Mr. Trump hopes black voters will look past. On Wednesday, Mr. Biden recalled Mr. Trump’s spreading of the Bornerism conspiracy theory against President Barack Obama, as well as his response to the killing of George Floyd four years ago.

“Let’s be clear about what happens to you and your family when old ghosts in new clothes take over,” Mr. Biden said this month in a commencement speech at Morehouse College, a college for historically black men in Atlanta.

Biden’s 2024 message to Black voters has so far been a mix of shaken memories of Mr. Trump’s divisive record and selling them on what he accomplished. The list he laid out Wednesday was long: helping close the racial wealth gap, investing in historically black colleges and universities, appointing the first black woman to the Supreme Court, expanding access to high-speed internet and promoting policies aimed at reconnecting black neighborhoods divided decades ago. by highways.

“Promises made and promises kept,” Mr. Biden said again and again.

Yet in the most recent poll of battleground states by the New York Times, Siena College and the Philadelphia Inquirer, Mr. Biden had just 49 percent support among registered black voters in a race that included third-party candidates. He was at 63 percent in a head-to-head with Mr. Atout.

Ashley Etienne, who worked on the Biden 2020 campaign and later aided Vice President Kamala Harris, expressed concern that the Biden campaign has yet to translate how the president’s agenda has actually improved the lives of the most black voters.

“What is the message beyond a long list of accomplishments? » MS. said Etienne. “If people don’t feel it in your life, you can say it all day long – it doesn’t sink in.” »

MS. Etienne credits Mr. Biden’s early struggles among black voters with being partly due to the president’s failure to advance two signature promises in 2020: sweeping police reform in the wake of Mr. Floyd’s killing and the voting rights legislation. Both are blocked in Congress, limiting Mr. Biden to executive orders that could prove temporary and actions by the Justice Department about which the public knows little.

“They galvanized Black participation based on those two issues, and on neither issue did they force Congress to act,” she said. “This is a vulnerability that they didn’t appreciate and I don’t know if they are trying to fix it.”

Core to Mr. Trump’s pitch to black and Latino voters has been that they are suffering economically from an influx of migrants who are driving them out of jobs and opportunities, a variation on the theme he used to rally so many white voters behind him in 2016.

“These millions and millions of people coming into our country, the biggest impact, and the biggest negative impact, is against our black population and our Hispanic population,” Mr. Trump said in the Bronx this week last.

Roland S. Martin, the former television commentator who hosts his own streaming program and oversees the Black Star Network, which produces and broadcasts programming aimed at black consumers, said Biden’s team was not pitching its product convincing manner.

“You have to clearly explain the political issues in terms of how they affect the average sibling across the country, and they’re still struggling to deal with it,” Mr. Martin said. “Republicans have always used bumper stickers. Democrats use white papers. We now live in the age of social media where they won’t read white papers. We need memes.

The two campaigns have different objectives. Mr. Biden needs black turnout to be high and to maximize his support among those voters. Mr. Trump can succeed either by reducing the overall number of black voters or by putting some in his column.

Mr. Biden’s recent schedule speaks to the centrality and urgency of building support in a community that helped him secure the Democratic nomination and the White House in 2020. And his campaign has repeatedly said no no other Democratic candidate had ever invested so much time and money. so early in the mobilization of black voters.

“I need you,” Mr. Biden said Wednesday at Girard College, a Philadelphia boarding school where desegregation battles took place decades ago.

In May alone, Mr. Biden delivered the commencement speech at Morehouse; he traveled to Detroit to speak at the nation’s largest NAACP dinner; He spoke at the National Museum of African American History and Culture to celebrate the 70th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education; and he made appearances on black radio shows, such as V-103’s “The Big Tigger Show” in Atlanta and 101.7’s “The Truth with Sherwin Hughes” in Milwaukee.

Throughout these appearances, as well as in new advertisements, he accentuated the contrast with his predecessor.

“Trump is trying to make the country forget how dark and troubling things were when he was president,” Mr. Biden said Wednesday. At one point, the president crossed himself after incredulously repeating Mr. Trump’s assertion that he has been the best president for black Americans since Abraham Lincoln.

In one of Mr. Biden’s new ads, the narrator says, “Donald Trump’s lack of respect for black people is nothing new,” accusing Mr. Trump of standing with “violent supremacists whites.” However, advertising was only minimally distributed. The Biden campaign had paid for $32,127 in airings as of Wednesday evening in a single market in Georgia, according to data from ad tracking company AdImpact.

Mr. Trump, of course, had his own data when he touted his presidency as having “the greatest economy in history,” a bygone utopia of low inflation and cheap gasoline.

“Everyone was better off under the leadership of a man named President Donald J. Trump,” he said last week. “Have you ever heard of him?”

He claimed it “had a record poverty rate for black Americans.” In fact, the low point in the rate occurred in 2022 during Mr. Biden’s term, according to U.S. Census data.

Cornell Belcher, a veteran pollster who worked for Mr. Obama’s presidential campaigns, said Mr. Biden had “from a political standpoint a fantastic story to tell” to black America.

“In many ways, Biden has a better story to tell than Obama did in early 2012,” Mr. Belcher said. “The problem is they haven’t heard it and they have no idea.”

Mr. Trump, he added, faces a very different political calculus. “He does not win by addition,” he said, “but by subtraction.” »

Mayan King reports contributed.

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