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Reelection Campaign Launches 'Black Voices For Trump' Initiative


President Trump will be in Atlanta today. His campaign is trying to attract black voters in 2020, but that will not be easy. It's been decades since any Republican presidential candidate won a significant portion of the of the black vote. And the president has low approval ratings with African American voters. NPR White House reporter Ayesha Rascoe has been talking to the Trump campaign. Good morning, Ayesha.


KING: So the president has an event in Atlanta today. Tell us about it and what they hope to accomplish.

RASCOE: So the campaign is starting this initiative called Black Voices for Trump. Trump has gotten a lot of pushback for his rhetoric about black communities like Baltimore and his attacks on black lawmakers and celebrities, questioning their intelligence and other insults. Trump defends himself by pointing out that his policies - under his policies, there's record low black unemployment and that he backed a law that cut prison sentences for thousands of people. I talked with senior campaign adviser Katrina Pierson, who is African American, and she said the campaign wants to focus on those issues that she says the media ignores.

KATRINA PIERSON: We're going to bypass the media, you know. I mean, think of it this way. If you are attacked all day every day, had your words taken out of context, twisted to fit a racist narrative, people might think that fits you. But we are going to definitely tell black America who Donald Trump the man is.

KING: OK. So what's their strategy for getting that message out?

RASCOE: So Pierson says at this event they're going to be naming supporters who'll be leading this effort. They're going to be training people to get out there knocking on doors, holding - they're going to be holding panel discussions and community events. And they're going into places like Charlotte, Houston, Philadelphia. You know, some of these are swing states where they think it could make a difference.

KING: So does the campaign have a target for how much it wants to increase the black vote for President Trump?

RASCOE: Pierson says no, but she thinks it will be higher than in 2016, when he got about 8%. And that is more than Republican candidates John McCain and Mitt Romney got. But remember, they were running against Barack Obama, who became the first black president. Experts I talked to say they don't think there's much room for Trump's support to go much higher than he got last time.

I talked with Theodore Johnson of the Brennan Center for Justice, who studies race and in elections. And he pointed out that Trump did worse with African Americans than Republican candidates like George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan. There is one notable difference with Trump. Johnson says that there's a small segment of black men who would be more open to Trump on jobs and his jobs message. Here's what he said.

THEODORE JOHNSON: The same appeals that work with non-college white men in the Rust Belt area, some of those same appeals work with a very small cohort of black men who prioritize economic security, economic empowerment.

RASCOE: But Johnson says he doesn't think this is enough to provide a real boost to Trump. Ultimately, he said, a lot will depend on who's who Trump is running against and how enthusiastic African Americans are about turning out to vote. If it's a close race like 2016, then Trump could benefit from lower turnout from African Americans in general.

KING: And just quickly, Ayesha, is there any evidence that black voters are moving toward Trump?

RASCOE: There isn't at this point. A recent poll by The Associated Press and NORC was released, and they found that just 4% of black Americans say they think Trump's actions have been good for African Americans. And 81% think he's made things worse.

KING: That's interesting. NPR's Ayesha Rascoe. Thank you.

RASCOE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.
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