WASHINGTON—Chants of “USA, USA, USA,” fist pumps, and cheers greeted President Donald Trump as he entered the East Room of the White House to speak at a Young Black Leadership Summit on Oct. 26.
“One day, one of you is going to be standing—it could be three or four of you actually—but you’re going to be standing right here,” he said to cheers from the crowd. “I have no doubt.”
He then asked all presidential hopefuls in the room to raise their hands, which a majority of them did.
“It’s an ambitious group, that’s great,” he said.
According to exit poll data, which is the closest, albeit flawed, approximation available on voter demographics, Trump didn’t get the majority of black voters in 2016.
But his approval rate among blacks seems to have risen since he took office, whether you believe the right-leaning Rasmussen poll, which gave him a 36 percent approval rating among blacks on Aug. 15, or the Reuters poll on Sept. 28 that gave him 15 percent approval, or the Quinnipiac poll on Aug. 14 that gave him 9 percent job-approval rating and a 10 percent approval rating for his policies among blacks. The most recent Gallup poll gives him 10 percent among blacks.
Accusations and Endorsements
During his presidency, Trump has been the subject of controversies about race.
After being fired from her White House job, former aide Omarosa Manigault Newman accused the president of racism. Pollster Frank Luntz, who is cited in Omarosa’s book as a source for the claim that Trump used racist language, has said this is “flat-out false.”
Trump was also attacked in the media after a white-supremacy sympathizer drove his car into a group of protesters at the Unite the Right Rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, because of comments that have been criticized as a misinterpretation of what the president said.
More recently, rapper Kanye West and former pro football great Jim Brown have delivered high-profile endorsements of Trump. And, during a meeting with a group of inner-city pastors, one of them called him the “most pro-black president.”
Whether these expressions of support have done much to bring Trump the votes of black Americans is not yet clear. But it’s possible that his policies have.
Unemployment among blacks is at its lowest point in recorded history, and the poverty rate among blacks is also at a historic low.
Trump has vowed to be tough on crime and has stood with law enforcement through the attacks by the Black Lives Matter movement. He has repeatedly talked about sending “feds” to stem violence in Chicago, which disproportionately affects blacks and Hispanics. On Oct. 19, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said he has sent more violent-crime prosecutors to Chicago than any other city in the United States.
He is also addressing prison reform, a high priority for many blacks. Senior White House adviser and Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, who has been working behind the scenes on prison reform, was able to get legislation passed in May, with bipartisan support in the House, that aims to help prisoners re-enter the workforce and reduce recidivism by increasing skill-building programs in prison. The bill is awaiting a vote in the Senate.
Trump has also made symbolic gestures, such as pardoning the deceased boxing champion Jack Johnson for a Jim Crow-era conviction generally regarded as racist.
Trump started his meeting with the black youth by calling for unity in the country after a man was arrested for sending 13 explosives to high-profile Democrats, former intelligence officials, and CNN via mail.
He then told the cheering audience that he believes they represented the future of the nation.
“You are not afraid to stand up for your beliefs or stand against injustice. You refuse to be told by the same failed voices how to think or what to believe,” he said, before talking about the economy and the impact it has had on the unemployment rate.
“The Democrats are very nervous … it’s supposed to be automatic, they do nothing for you, and it’s supposed to be automatic—not anymore,” he said referring to Democrats winning black voters’ support. “You’re not intimidated by the forces of political correctness because you embrace your own right to free thought and free speech.”
He talked about black conservatives being attacked for supporting him, a movement of “tolerance, unity, and progress,” as he called it, to which there was an audible murmur of agreement from the crowd.
“They are attacking us because we are speaking the truth, changing people’s minds, and proving every day that our policies work, and that we are really doing what’s right and what’s good, ” he said.
The murmurs turned to chants of “USA, USA, USA,” when he talked about putting Americans first. Punctuated throughout his nearly 40-minute speech was a refrain of clapping, cheering, and waving of red MAGA hats, which many in the audience were wearing.
“This is a beautiful meeting,” he said, referencing the enthusiasm of the crowd. “Some of them I’m, you know, a little bored [at]—I do my thing, I say my words, I say ‘bye everybody,’ and then I go and I say, it’s alright, but this is very, to me, this is a very exciting place.”
After his speech, he mingled with the crowd, signing MAGA hats and taking selfies with excited attendees.
The four-day summit was organized by conservative student organization Turning Point USA, which had among its speakers Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, who also attended Trump’s speech, and actress and Fox News analyst Stacey Dash.
Candace Owens, director of communications for Turning Point USA, said she saw the White House meeting as a kind of coming of age for a nascent black conservative movement, writing in a tweet: “At long last, the black conservative movement has descended upon Washington D.C. It’s beautiful. It’s raw. It’s free.”