The GOP's Effort To Win Over Black Voters

Aug 30, 2020
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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Something else that stood out over the last two weeks of conventions - a very concerted effort by both political parties to showcase racial diversity. But there was a difference. While the Democratic convention featured a large number of women of color, at the Republican convention, most of the speakers of color were men, especially Black men.

Sure, two of the RNC stars were arguably former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley and the newly pardoned Alice Johnson, but they were far outnumbered by men like Senator Tim Scott, White House aide Ja'Ron Smith, former NFL players, including congressional candidate Burgess Owens, and even one of the original Greensboro sit-in activists. That was probably not a coincidence. According to a Pew Research Center estimate, in 2016, 64% of eligible Black women said they had voted compared with 54% of eligible Black, men a much larger gender gap than for white or Hispanic voters.

And our next guest, New York Times columnist Charles Blow, writes that President Trump and his Republican allies have zeroed in on the importance of Black male voters, especially in swing states, and are making some concerted efforts to pry them away from Democrats. And Charles Blow is with us now to tell us more about his reporting. Charles Blow, welcome. Thank you so much for joining us.

CHARLES BLOW: My pleasure.

MARTIN: So you were writing about this gender gap among African Americans even before the convention. So what did you see that made you think about this?

BLOW: No. 1, there's been a drift away from Democratic candidates by Black men in the last three election cycles. So in 2008, the gap between Black women voting for the Democrat and Black men, there was only one percentage point gap. In 2012, that gap grew to, I think, nine percentage points. And in 2016, it was, I think, twelve percentage points. Black women stayed basically steady over that period. It was that Black men who were falling away from it. And I believed also that the Trump campaign and Republicans see that and are doing whatever they can to shave a few more percentage points and push the Black men further away from the Democratic Party.

MARTIN: So we also saw during the convention - his African Americans speakers, among others, hitting on a couple of themes. We saw them hitting on criminal justice reform.

BLOW: Yes.

MARTIN: And we also saw them hitting on support for the HBCUs. And, of course, they kept saying over and over again the president's not racist. I'm offended that the president's being described as racist. In your reporting, did you see those kinds of issues coming up when you were just talking to voters on your own?

BLOW: I think that the criminal justice is a big issue in the Black community writ large, but in particular for Black men. And the president hasn't done a lot around this issue. I mean, they've passed this First Step Act, and it's a good thing, you know. But he has, over his life, demonized Black men. I mean, the case that comes to mind most readily for most people is the Central Park Five. I mean, he is not the person who is championing getting you out of prison. He is the person who's saying, be rougher with them when you arrest them. He's the person who's always campaigning on a law and order campaign philosophy, which is basically - white people, I will protect you from the Black people and the immigrants and the Mexicans and the Muslims who may be terrorists.

MARTIN: I'm wondering if the appeal is about policy, or is it about really something else, something a little less easily to define? And the reason I ask you this, and the reason I'm so glad you were able to join us for this conversation is that you've written a lot about Black masculinity and how that masculinity is developed and how it sort of finds itself and expresses itself in a society that throws so many things and challenges at Black men. And I wonder if part of Trump's appeal to Black men isn't so much about policy as it is about something else. And what might that something else be, a sort of an image of masculinity that is not complicated? Or what do you think?

BLOW: We had that famous episode when Kanye went into the Oval Office and he's saying I grew up without a dad, and Trump made me feel like Superman. There is a bravado in Trump that has an appeal to men in general, right? And there's a reason that a lot of young hip-hop artists before Trump was a political person had a lot of affinity for him. He hung out with them, right? He hung out with the boxers. He hung out with - in Mike Tyson's house. Herschel Walker would say they were friends because he hung out with athletes, Black athletes. A lot of these young men saw something in him and his kind of brash demeanor as something interesting and cool.

MARTIN: It does seem curious that there is this appeal at all. I mean, remember, President Trump got 8% of the Black vote last time. And yes, it's true that he signed the First Step Act, which was something - a bipartisan effort, and that he did solidify support for HBCUs. But he's also - insults Black people repeatedly, particularly Black female reporters, calling them stupid, Black female members of Congress, praising white nationalists, at the very least refusing to condemn them. The unemployment rate is at its highest level since the Depression. Millions of people have lost their health care. So I just have to ask you - I mean, just - I mean, I'm asking you as a journalist to kind of speculate somewhat. But do you think that this appeal might be effective, this sort of targeted appeal to this particular - to Black males as opposed to...

BLOW: Listen. I think that in a two-party system, people weigh things, right? And so some people are more - if they're not a single-issue voter, they're a couple-issue voter. And for some people, they could hate this guy. But they could also say, I'm worried about competition for these construction jobs. I'm worried about - that's the business that I'm in. I'm worried about Black people being displaced more as a minority group as the Hispanic population rises and Black population stays relatively stagnant. That doesn't mean they like Trump. But they look at these issues, and they say, I could entertain it for that reason. It's not the vast majority of Black people. It's just small numbers, but those small numbers are what they're looking for.

MARTIN: That is New York Times columnist Charles Blow. He's also the author of the memoir "Fire Shut Up In My Bones." Charles Blow, thanks so much for talking to us.

BLOW: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.