The problem with Trump's pitch to African-American voters

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump participates in a roundtable discussion with African American business and civic leaders, Sept. 2, 2016, in Philadelphia, Pa. (Photo by Evan Vucci/AP)
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump participates in a roundtable discussion with African American business and civic leaders, Sept. 2, 2016, in Philadelphia, Pa. 

When Donald Trump sat down with CBS News' Margaret Brennan earlier this year, the "Face the Nation" host asked for the president's reactions to public attitudes on race. Specifically, Brennan reminded Trump that most Americans oppose his handling of race issues, and even some of his allies have acknowledged the president's problems with race.

Trump responded by repeatedly pointing to the unemployment rate. He genuinely seemed to believe that low unemployment was evidence of sound leadership on race – which wasn't just wrong, it also reflected the perspective of someone who hasn't given the issue nearly enough thought.

He still hasn't. This morning, Trump turned to Twitter to insist he's "the least racist person." To support the absurd assertion, the Republican once again pointed to the unemployment rate in minority communities -- a jobless rate that was already falling long before Trump took office.

It's against this backdrop that Politico had an interesting report over the weekend, noting that Trump and his team hope to "shave just a few percentage points off Democrats' overwhelming support among black voters" through a specific strategy.

The Trump 2020 campaign has been quietly reaching out to prominent African Americans about joining its latest coalition, intended to boost Republican support in the black community. [...]The campaign's pitch to African Americans is simple: Ignore the president's words and instead focus on his policies, the state of the economy, the low unemployment rate, the passage of criminal justice reform and the creation of Opportunity Zones, which are meant to bolster investment in underserved or poorer cities.

The idea, apparently, is for Team Trump to effectively tell African-American voters, "If you overlook Trump's racism, his record toward the African-American community is pretty great."

Broadly speaking, there are two main problems with this. The first is that asking anyone, much less communities of color, to look past a leader's overt racism is plainly ridiculous.

The second is that focusing on Trump's policies doesn't much help. It was just last summer, for example, when the administration rolled back an Obama-era rule intended to combat housing segregation.

As we discussed at the time, that came on the heels of the Trump administration issuing federal guidance to educational institutions, urging them to stop considering race as a factor in school admissions, scrapping another Obama-era policy.

Trump’s Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, meanwhile, also stripped enforcement powers from the CFPB’s office responsible for pursuing discrimination cases. As the Washington Post reported, the Office of Fair Lending and Equal Opportunity “previously used its powers to force payouts in several prominent cases, including settlements from lenders it alleged had systematically charged minorities higher interest rates than they had for whites.”

The unit still exists, but under Trump, its focus will be on “advocacy, coordination and education,” instead of enforcement and oversight.

Making matters slightly worse, Trump’s Justice Department has “effectively shuttered an Obama-era office dedicated to making legal aid accessible to all citizens,” which also appears likely to adversely affect minority communities.

I can appreciate the idea that Trump's actions are more important than his words. There's certainly a lot of truth to that.

But I also believe the impact of a president peddling racism is more than just meaningless rhetoric, and that Trump's actions toward minority communities are a whole lot worse than he seems to realize.