Donald Trump’s Bid To Win Over African-American Voters Ended At The Debates

Donald Trump's outreach toward African American voters has been strange for a while now. After a Suffolk University poll showed that 44 percent of likely voters thought Trump was racist and FiveThirtyEight reported African Americans supported him not just less than Hillary Clinton, but less than third-party candidates Gary Johnson and Jill Stein, his campaign launched a tone-deaf series of actions pitched to African Americans. Though he made some seemingly earnest attempts, such as visiting a church in Detroit, he also peppered his outreach with brash comments bordering on insults, memorably asking African-American voters, "What the hell do you have to lose?"

Trump's insulting message to African-American voters was evident at the debate last night, and any hopes he had of making progress with the community lost badly. Trump spent a significant portion of the debate arguing forcefully in favor of expanding New York City's Stop and Frisk policy. If Trump knew anything about that policy, he'd know that touting it was among the worst possible ways to appeal to African Americans.

Stop and Frisk was declared unconstitutional by a federal judge in 2013. The court said that the policy, which involved police officers stopping people on the street if they were deemed suspicious, and potentially frisking them after questioning, disproportionately affected “blacks and Hispanics who would not have been stopped if they were white.” It found that most of the people stopped were not guilty of anything, and that it was ineffective at decreasing crime as well.

In the 2013 New York mayoral race, shortly after the ruling, Bill de Blasio won, in no small part thanks to his opposition to the policy. He received 96 percent of the African American vote, which can be seen as a clear sign of how the community felt about the policy. And last night, Trump stood in front of 80 million viewers and told African Americans that the best thing for them would be a policy they hate.

This falls in line with a tactic Trump has engaged in before — he doesn't work to actually get the votes of African Americans, but instead to get the votes of moderate whites who are turned off by racism. He talks about a policy that he says is focused on minority communities, unconcerned about whether that policy is actually wanted by those communities.

Soon after in the debate, Trump talked about his time as a birther. He reiterated his bogus claim that Hillary Clinton started the rumors about Barack Obama's birthplace in 2008. He took no responsibility for spreading the lie or refusing to let it die after the president produced his long-form birth certificate. Trump even suggested he should be celebrated for those actions: "I was the one that got him to produce the birth certificate. And I think I did a good job."

If Trump was serious about trying to appeal to African Americans, he would take note of how insulting his birther crusade was to many. And if he's just trying to convince white voters that he's not racist, the level to which he's given up on pretending to appeal to African Americans should tell them what they need to know.