Back in July there was great laughter and knowing nods when some polls showed that then-GOP presidential contender Donald Trump would get not get a single black vote. Trump certainly earned this goose egg with his horrendous record of slamming the door on blacks in his apartment rentals, his relentless birther savaging of President Obama, his nonstop trashing of the Central Park Five, his wild enthusiasm for stop and frisk, and his thinly disguised race-tinged wisecracks at his rallies.
But a funny thing happened between the near punchline zero percent Trump supposedly would get if the election were held in July and Nov. 8. That zero percent of the black vote magically transformed into some real numbers that actually had some significance in the election, and maybe beyond.
The 8 percent of the black vote Trump received, which translated into numbers totaling roughly a half-million votes, topped the total won by GOP presidential contenders Mitt Romney in 2012 and John McCain in 2008.
Another 4 percent of black voters did not support Democratic rival Hillary Clinton. This comes out to more than a million black votes lost to Clinton, something that should raise eyebrows.
This drop in the black vote for Clinton from what Obama received is easy to explain. One, she’s not Obama. He’s black and his campaign became a virtual holy crusade for blacks to make history and put one of their own in the White House. No white Democrat could hope to match that spine-tingling exuberance. A lot more blacks repeatedly ripped into Clinton for hubby Bill’s alleged racial sins as president, those being his shoving through the draconian omnibus crime bill that increased the numbers of blacks in federal and state pens, and a welfare reform bill that seemed more punitive than helpful. Hillary’s own one-time offensive branding of black lawbreakers as “super predators” also hurt.
However, the brutal reality is that thousands of blacks voted for Trump. Their reasons for that are just as easy to explain. Trump touched a nerve with his contention that poor, underserved black neighborhoods are supposedly a mess with lousy public schools, high crime rates, violence, chronic joblessness and poverty. And he dumped the blame for that squarely on the Democrats who run and have been running most of these cities for decades. Trump doubled down on that slam with a handful of carefully choreographed appearances with high-profile black preachers at well-known black churches. This was just enough to take off the edge of Trump’s almost set-in-stone image as a guy wearing a white sheet under his business suit.
But there was more. As far back as the 2004 presidential election there was a sign that more than a few blacks, most notably black conservative evangelicals, were deeply susceptible to GOP conservative pitches on some issues. A considerable number of them voted for Bush that year, and that was enough to give him the cushion needed to bag Ohio and win the White House. The same polls in that election that showed the prime concern of black people was with bread-and-butter issues — and that Bush’s rival Democrat rival John Kerry was viewed as the candidate who could deliver on those issues — also revealed that a sizable number of blacks ranked abortion, gay marriage and school prayer as priority issues. Their concerns over these issues didn’t come anywhere close to that of white evangelicals, but it was still higher than that of the general voting public.
In 2008 and 2012, black GOP advocacy groups ran ads hammering the Democrats for their alleged indifference to black suffering in the inner cities, touting the GOP’s emphasis on small business, school choice and family values as the best path to black advancement. This pitch has always had some appeal to many blacks. And though it would never trigger any kind of stampede to the GOP by even most of these conservative leaning blacks, it was enough to take some of the sting out of the GOP’s naked history of racial abuse.
Trump understood enough of this history. He tailored the few pitches he did make to blacks to reflect the stock GOP pro-business, free enterprise line as something that blacks also could and should embrace.
The 8 percent of blacks who voted for Trump, combined with the numbers who didn’t vote at all, or didn’t vote for Clinton, did not help elect Trump. He won with an Obama-like crusade among less educated male and female whites, blue collar and rural voters. However, enough blacks did buy his pitch that a conservative Republican businessman, one with a horrific racial history, was a better bet in the Oval Office than a Democrat. This fact makes Trump’s victory an even more troubling political oddity.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is the author of “How President Trump Will Govern” (Amazon Kindle) and an associate editor of New America Media. He is also a weekly co-host of “The Al Sharpton Show” on Radio One and host of the weekly “Hutchinson Report” on KPFK, 90.7FM Los Angeles, and the Pacifica Network.