Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump addresses the crowd at a campaign rally March 7, 2016 in Concord, N.C.
Photo by Sean Rayford/Getty

Trump’s efforts to shake racist label likely to come up short

There’s some truth to the old cliché, “The first step is admitting you have a problem.” In Donald Trump’s case, the Republican’s presidential campaign is burdened by public perceptions that he’s overtly racist, and as the election season enters the home stretch, the Washington Post reports that the candidate and his team are “rapidly trying” to improve Trump’s bigoted reputation.
Guided by his new campaign leadership, the Republican nominee has ordered a full-fledged strategy to court black and Latino voters and is mobilizing scores of minority figures to advocate publicly for his candidacy.
Trump is planning trips to urban areas – with stops at churches, charter schools and small businesses in black and Latino communities – and is developing an empowerment agenda based on the economy and education, aides said. Under consideration is an early September visit to Detroit, where retired neurosurgeon and former Republican primary rival Ben Carson would guide him on a tour of the impoverished neighborhoods where he grew up.
There’s no great mystery as to Team Trump’s motivations: racism isn’t just morally reprehensible; in presidential politics, it’s also an electoral loser. In an increasingly diverse country, Republican candidates will continue to lose national elections unless they improve their standing with racial and ethnic minorities.
Recent polling suggests, however, that Trump is on track to do far worse than any modern presidential hopeful with these communities. Thus, the new “strategy.”
Will it work? Almost certainly not.
Once a politician earns a reputation, it doesn’t disappear after a hastily thrown together “mobilization” scheme in a campaign’s final 10 weeks. Donald J. Trump’s entry into national politics began in earnest with his obsession over a racist conspiracy theory about the first African-American president’s birthplace. Voters are supposed to overlook this if Trump takes a tour of Detroit?

I’m reminded anew of this column in June from the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank.
The things Trump is doing now – disparaging the “Mexican” judge, disqualifying Muslim judges, calling somebody claiming Native American blood “Pocahontas” and singling out “my African American” – is very much in line with what he has been doing for the past year, and before.
More than six months ago, I began a column by proposing, “Let’s not mince words: Donald Trump is a bigot and a racist.” His bigotry went back decades, to the Central Park jogger case, and came to include: his leadership of the “birther” movement suggesting President Obama was a foreign-born Muslim, his vulgar expressions for women, his talk of Mexico sending rapists into America, his call for mass deportation, his spats with Latino news outlets, his mocking Asian accent, his tacit acceptance of the claim that Muslims are a “problem” in America, his agreement that American Muslims should be forced to register themselves, his call to ban Muslim immigration, his false claim about American Muslims celebrating 9/11, his tweeting of statistics from white supremacists, his condoning of violence against black demonstrators and his mocking of a journalist with a physical disability.
What’s more, we can keep this going by looking back a little further: “His first appearance in the New York Times came in the context of his being caught refusing to rent apartments to African-Americans. A former Trump employee has detailed a series of private racist statements and acts – saying “laziness is a trait in blacks,” objecting to black people working for him in accounting, his staff shooing black people off the casino floor when he arrived. Trump has replied that the comments were ‘probably true’ but berated the person who made them as a ‘loser.’”
Odds are, Trump and his team realize they can’t undo the damage that’s been done by the candidate’s overt racism. In fact, there’s ample reason to believe the Republican campaign’s outreach to minority communities isn’t really about minority communities at all.
“After 15 months of denigrating every nonwhite minority in sight, it’s hard to believe that he can actually do significantly better among nonwhites,” Republican pollster Whit Ayres told the Washington Post yesterday. “But he may be able to soften his image a bit with some Republicans and maybe a few independent whites who have been put off by his harshness thus far.”
It’s an important detail, which Slate’s Jamelle Bouie highlighted on Monday: Trump is “not trying to win over black voters…. No, the point here – and the overall goal of this latest ‘pivot’ – is to salvage Trump’s standing with college-educated whites, who have turned decisively against the alleged billionaire for his outright bigotry and general buffoonery.”
There’s no reason to believe the gambit will be effective on these voters, either, but given the state of the race, the GOP nominee and his new leadership team have likely come to the conclusion that they have no choice.

Donald Trump and Racism

Trump's efforts to shake racist label likely to come up short