Donald Trump's bungled black-vote pitch

Donald Trump and Darrell Scott speak to the press at Trump Tower on Monday. Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Donald Trump and the Reverend Darrell Scott face reporters after Monday's meeting with black ministers

Donald Trump has boasted of his "great relationship with the blacks", but the past week's events reveal that the novice presidential campaigner has a lot of work to do if he wants to win over a demographic group that usually votes overwhelmingly for Democrats.

As any veteran campaign strategists will attest, you don't announce an impending endorsement unless you're sure that support is iron-clad. And, it would follow, you certainly don't announce 100 of them.

It's a political truth that Donald Trump's campaign appears to have learned the hard way.

Last Wednesday Team Donald sent out a press release boasting that 100 black religious leaders would endorse the real-estate billionaire on Monday following a private meeting in his New York City skyscraper.

It turns out, however, that many of the black minsters listed were not ready to pledge their support for the candidate - and some had not even planned on attending the event.

"The meeting was presented not as a meeting to endorse but as a meeting to engage in dialogue," wrote Bishop Clarence E. McClendon, one of the non-attendees, on his Facebook page.

By Friday the campaign was under fire from the larger black religious community. More than 100 leaders and scholars posted an open letter on the Ebony Magazine website asking those participating in the Trump event to reconsider their decision.

"Mr Trump routinely uses overtly divisive and racist language on the campaign trail," they wrote.

They cited, in particular, a recent incident where Mr Trump appeared to encourage supporters to forcibly remove a Black Lives Matter protestor from an Alabama campaign event and the candidate's repeated references to questionable statistics on black crime.

"By siding with a presidential candidate whose rhetoric pathologises black people," they concluded, "what message are you sending to the world about the black lives in and outside of your congregations?"

On Sunday the Trump campaign called off the endorsement press event, and the following morning the candidate told MSNBC that he suspected Black Lives Matters activists were responsible for pressuring the scheduled participants to withdraw.

Despite the botched roll-out, what the campaign billed as a "private, informational meet-and-greet" did take place on Monday, with "dozens" black religious leaders.

In true Trump fashion, the candidate decided to hold an impromptu press conference after the event anyway.

"This meeting was amazing," he said. "The meeting went so much longer, and it went longer only because of the love."

He added that the event participants were not concerned with the rhetoric that had drawn the ire of his critics.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Bishop Victor Couzens says he asked Donald Trump to apologise and repent

"The beautiful thing about the meeting is that they didn't really ask me to change the tone," he said.

Other meeting participants gave a different story, saying that the conversation with Mr Trump was tense at times.

"We spent a lot of time just discussing the overall tone of the campaign," Bishop Victor Couzens of Ohio told ThinkProgress. "I personally said to him he needs to apologise. He needs to repent."

Darrell Scott, the Ohio pastor who says he organised the get-together, accompanied the candidate to the post-meeting press gaggle and said that a "lot of progress" was made on black issues. He offered his public endorsement that day, and Mr Trump said he received endorsements from "many, many" others in private.

"Mr Trump is a real leader, and I have great respect for his honesty and candour," Scott said. "He is going to make our country great again."

As the Atlantic's David Graham points out, there's not much evidence that Mr Trump has significant support from the black community at this point. Nine percent had a favourable view of the candidate in a mid-November poll. Just 10 percent found him trustworthy in another.

"The problem for Republicans who want to win the black vote is that African Americans just don't agree with them on that much," Graham writes. "As true as that is for the mainstream GOP, it's even more acute for Trump."

While black voters have expressed some dissatisfaction with the Democratic Party as it prepares to enter the post-Obama years, issues like undocumented immigration and a Mexican border - the backbone of Mr Trump's campaign - generally take a back seat to economic and criminal justice concerns.

And while evangelical black voters may have views on social issues closer to those of the Republican Party, religion isn't exactly Mr Trump's strong suit.

Image copyright AP
Image caption EW Jackson says Donald Trump's hasn't displayed a working knowledge of the Bible

"We should seek first the candidate who represents the kingdom of God and his righteousness," writes conservative black minister EW Jackson in a press release. "Is that Donald Trump? I think not. When asked his favourite scripture, he refused, saying, 'It's very private'."

Of course at this point Mr Trump - along with his fellow candidates - are less concerned about a general election campaign than with winning their party's presidential nomination.

With the prospects of a drawn-out primary battle thanks to the large, well-funded presidential field, and the fact that a large bloc of Southern states could play a pivotal role when they vote together in early March, even an incremental increase in the relatively small black Republican vote could prove quite helpful.

Following Monday's non-endorsement meeting, both Mr Trump and Scott said that this was the first in what will be a series of meetings between the candidate and black religious leaders. If the candidate wants to turn promised endorsements into real ones, he still has much work to do.

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