President-elect Donald Trump is continuing his rally tour, criss-crossing different states in a clear attempt to replicate that teeming energy he clearly loved so much throughout his presidential campaign. And like everything our eventual 45th president has done so far, it's been a strange sight, and wholly contrary to the goals of most incoming commanders in chief. While most Electoral College winners who lost the popular vote by nearly 3 million would be focusing on unity right now, in other words, he seems more eager to divide. For instance, take what might be Trump's worst victory rally gloat yet, crediting black voters for turning out in low enough numbers to enable his overwhelmingly white base of supporters to carry him over the finish line.
It's a line he's used before ― his victory tour stops have centered around a familiar rotation of themes, gloats, and taunts ― but if you were expecting him to strike a somewhat conciliatory or unifying tone post-election, this surely wasn't what you were looking for. Speaking before his assembled supporters in Hershey, Pennsylvania, Trump commented on how black voters "didn't come out to vote" for his opponent, openly lauding low turnout in away that's typically anathema for major party politicians.
We did great with the African-American community, so great. Remember the famous line, 'cause I talk about crime, I talk about lack of education, and I talk about no jobs. And I'd say 'what the hell do you have to lose,' right? It's true. And they're smart, and they picked up on it like you wouldn't believe, and you know what else? They didn't come out to vote for Hillary. They didn't come out, and that was the big thing. So thank you to the African-American community.
This isn't the first time Trump has used this line. In fact, he said much the same during his rally in Michigan last week, in which he claimed that black voters didn't turn out for Hillary Clinton in the same numbers as they did for Obama in 2008 or 2012 because "they felt good about me."
The African-American community was great to us, they came through big league. Big league. And frankly, if they had any doubt, they didn't vote. And that was almost as good. Because a lot of people didn't show up, because they felt good about me.
For the record, Trump lost black voters to Clinton by a margin of about 80 points, so to say they felt "good" about him in any general sense is absurd in the extreme. It is true that she failed to match Obama's sky-high levels of support with black voters, but that was always an unlikely feat ― after all, he's the first black president in American history, and a far more popular figure in a general sense than Clinton's been in recent years. In short, Trump seems to be indulging in some revisionist history here, trying to argue that he won thanks to his reductive outreach message to black voters.
Or, rather, his pitch to black voters made to predominantly white audiences. At the time, the rhetorical move was widely perceived as being more about assuaging typical white Republican voters who were skeptical of his candidacy that he wasn't a racist. Trying to achieve that through grossly generalizing the black experience in America and yelling "what the hell do you have to lose?" might not sound like a great strategy, but it apparently resonated with someone out there.
It's worth bearing in mind, when reading or viewing Trump's praise for any voters staying home that such was reportedly his deliberate campaign strategy in the finals weeks. A report from Businessweek's Joshua Green and Sasha Issenberg spotlighted the issue in the final weeks, for its quoting of a senior campaign official that "voter suppression operations" were underway, aimed at reducing Clinton's turnout, in view of Trump's weakness and potential inability to maximize his own. Ultimately, diminished turnout for Clinton and a surge of white voters flocking to Trump turned the tide.