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Trump’s insulting Black voter strategy is Biden’s shot at redemption

First published in The Hill.

A black man deposits a ballot into a voting box.

Black voters will decide this presidential election. 

I firmly believe that, and it looks like Donald Trump’s campaign believes it too.  

New reports say Trump has stepped up his outreach to Black voters in recent days. That may be a smart thing. What’s not so smart is that they seem to be doing it by leaning into Trump’s new identity as a criminal. 

A few days before his conviction on 34 felony counts, Trump rallied in the Bronx with hip-hop stars known to be facing murder conspiracy and weapons charges. Months ago, he claimed that Black voters relate to him because he’s been criminally charged.  

His post-verdict outreach is much the same, with an extra helping of abuse for the justice system that convicted him. 

It’s head-spinning that this comes from someone who demanded execution for the falsely accused Central Park Five and made a cottage industry out of questioning the birthplace of America’s first Black president. I can’t help thinking that Trump’s idea of Black America is what he sees on Fox News while sitting in Trump Tower or Mar-a-Lago: completely divorced from reality. 

Black voters are just like other voters who care about their families and futures. Despite what Trump might assume, most do not fit his offensive stereotypes. We have strong views on justice, and in my experience, the Black community believes deeply in accountability for wrongs.     

The community is not monolithic, any more than any other community is. But the Black church has always provided a moral center and a hub for organizing around civil rights causes and getting out the vote.  

Against this backdrop, I just don’t see Trump’s felony conviction helping him. But will it hurt him?  

That depends on how President Biden’s campaign messages it. 

More than anything, this conviction should throw into sharp relief the fact that Trump is running for president to stay out of prison. It needs to be made clear to voters that he is only looking out for himself, not for all of us.  

That message to Black voters must be bolstered with a clear message about Biden’s policy record.  

Black voters are used to voting on policy and not representation — right up until the Obama campaign and in most cases ever since. 

What that means is that instead of looking to the candidates for an avatar of ourselves, we look at them and think, okay, these people may not look like me, but which one will make schools better and streets safer?     

So, in this presidential election, which candidate has made historic investments in historically Black colleges and universities? Which one has presided over the lowest Black unemployment rate in history and record growth in Black business startups, a menu of initiatives to close the racial wealth gap and the cancellation of student debt?  

Hint: not Donald Trump. 

Which candidate is increasing the federal minimum wage and naming more Black federal judges?   

Not Trump, who calls Black prosecutors from Letitia James to Fani Willis to Alvin Bragg “racists.” Not Trump, who’s having a weekend fundraiser with a business tycoon accused of throwing the “n” word around the office on a regular basis. 

The Biden campaign has a record and a message to share with Black voters, and history shows us how vital that is.    

Trump will likely get the high percentage of white voters that Ronald Reagan got when he beat Walter Mondale and that Mitt Romney and John McCain got when they lost to Barack Obama. The difference for Obama was the Black vote: It reached record highs during his campaigns.

If Biden is going to win, he needs Black voters to turn out for him. And the campaign has work to do, a reality it acknowledged with the launch of “Black Voters for Biden-Harris” in May.    

I believe Trump is making a serious strategic error in trying to win Black voters by touting his criminal record. Meanwhile, the dynamics of this campaign are such that Biden has to make sure he’s telling us his story as often and as aggressively as he can. 

It looks like the Biden campaign is getting that now. And it’s not a moment too soon.