Donald Trump’s campaign has spent the past few days trying to reach minority voters.
If he wants to win the White House he has got to do something about his terrible numbers in the African-American community. And he’s doing almost as badly with Hispanic voters, the fastest-growing demographic in US politics.
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One of his advisers on the issue is Ben Carson, the retired neurosurgeon and a former political rival. I remember speaking with him at an event in North Carolina and asking why most black voters backed the Democrats: “They should change,” he told me. “Their lives haven’t improved much by backing Democrats.They should look for something new.”
It’s a message that Donald Trump has picked up and put out in his own bombastic style. “What the hell do you have to lose?” he asked black voters at a predominately white rally just last week.
Then there is the “softening” on immigration. During the Republican debates, Trump insisted that he was going to round up all 11 million undocumented migrants in the US and have them deported. He suggested setting up a deportation force to do it. When others, notably Jeb Bush pointed out that was unfeasible and ridiculous, that he’d be ripping apart families, Trump refused to back down.
Now he’s saying he won’t eject all 11 million; that there has to be some consideration for those who have lived quietly with no fuss. People in Trump’s words who are “outstanding” and “great”.
‘Changed words, not position’
When asked if this was a “flip flop”, often fatal in US politics, his spokeswoman Katrina Pierson told a national television audience: “He hasn’t changed his position on immigration, he has changed the words he’s saying.” Others on the panel couldn’t contain their laughter.
One of his biggest supporters, right-wing columnist Ann Coulter, who launched a book “In Trump we Trust”only two days ago, expressed her disgust at the candidate’s shifting position.
The Trump moves with the African-American community has several problems.
First he was a leading voice in the “birther” movement which questioned whether Barack Obama was born in the United States and therefore tried to delegitimise the country’s president.
They are also aware that Trump didn’t immediately disavow the support of white supremacists for at least 24 hours after they backed his campaign, even when under pressure in a TV interview to do so.
Back in 1989, he called for the death penalty for five black and Hispanic youths who were wrongly convicted of raping a white woman in New York.
And there is his description of the Black Lives Matter campaign as “very divisive”, which suggests he doesn’t understand the real concern and fear in African-American communities across the US.
The challenge for Trump is that 65 percent of all American adults believe the word “racist” applies to Trump slightly, 35 percent say it applies very well.
Republican pollster Whit Ayres told the Washington Post: “After 15 months of denigrating every non-white minority in sight it’s hard to believe he can actually do significantly better among non-whites.”
Trump says he is going to take his message into black and Latino communities.
But that may not be the final endgame here.
With his outreach to minority communities, he wants to win more of their votes. But what may be important is convincing white voters who don’t support him right now that, despite his explosive rhetoric, he’s not a racist.
And that will make it easier to vote for him.