Trump says his indictments are helping him attract black voters

Former President Donald J. Trump, in a speech to a black conservative group on Friday night, said he believes the four criminal cases he faces have earned him the support of black voters who have seen the justice system’s historic unfairness reflected in his legal troubles.

“I think that’s why black people are so much on my side right now,” Mr. Trump said at an event organized by the Black Conservative Federation in Columbia, S.C. “Because they see what’s happening to me and it’s happening to them. Does that make sense?”

At another point in his speech, he suggested that black voters warmed to him “because they’ve been so badly hurt and discriminated against, and they actually saw me as being discriminated against. It was pretty amazing.”

Mr. Trump has long used “law and order” to rally his conservative base, as well as coded racist language to attack political opponents. His comments on Friday came in a speech filled with express overtures to black voters, a group that has largely voted Democratic for decades but whose support he and his campaign are seeking.

As the former president shifted focus from the Republican primary, where he is the overwhelming favorite, to the general election, he increasingly included references to black voters in his speeches.

Typically, Mr. Trump claims that Black Americans have fared better economically under his administration than under President Biden. He also argued that the influx of migrants to the southern border disproportionately harms black workers, who face the threat of losing their jobs to immigrants willing to work for lower wages.

But in a speech on Friday, Mr. Trump tailored his remarks specifically to black voters. In particular, he married one of the central complaints that animated his campaign — that the 91-count felony indictment was the work of politically motivated prosecutors and an unfair justice system — with appeals to race.

At one point, Mr. Trump brought up a picture taken last August when he was indicted in Georgia on charges related to his efforts to overturn his 2020 election loss in that state.

The Trump campaign used the photo in fundraising and placed it on apparel, as did numerous independent retailers across the political spectrum. Mr. Trump noted that black men were wearing shirts with his booking photo.

“You know who took it more than anybody else?” Trump asked the crowd. “The Black Population.”

Mr. Trump also spoke at length about his signature criminal justice reform bill, the First Step Act. He rarely mentioned the law — which, among other things, sought to reduce mandatory minimum sentences for some crimes — while campaigning in predominantly white Iowa and New Hampshire.

Mr. Trump has long been accused of racist remarks and behavior. The Department of Justice sued him in 1977 for discriminating against potential black tenants. He was criticized for stoking racial tensions when he took out newspaper ads in New York City in the 1980s urging the state to adopt the death penalty after the rape of a jogger in Central Park, a crime wrongly blamed on five black and Latino teenagers.

And he first emerged as a conservative political figure when he fueled animus toward President Barack Obama by becoming a high-profile figure in the so-called birther movement, which falsely cast doubt on whether Mr. Obama was born in the United States.

Mr. Trump continues to emphasize Obama’s middle name, Hussein, when he mentions him on the campaign trail. And he has continued to question the eligibility of political opponents who are people of color, most recently Nikki Haley, his only remaining challenger for the Republican presidential nomination.

But Mr. Trump often touts his better standing among black voters on the trail. He won just 8 percent of black voters nationally in 2020 and 6 percent in 2016, but polls have shown him to have increased support, especially in key battleground states.

During Friday’s speech, as he thanked supporters and friends in the crowd — a typical feature of Mr. Trump’s campaign speeches — he noted that he was having a hard time spotting them.

“The lights are so bright in my eyes that I can’t see too many people there,” Trump said to laughter from the audience. “But I can only see black. I don’t see any white, see?”

“That’s how far I’ve come,” he added as the crowd cheered. “That’s how far I’ve come. It’s a long – it’s a long way, isn’t it?”

He also targeted identity politics, although he repeatedly tried to cater to black voters.

While telling the story of negotiations over the cost of overhauling Air Force One, Mr. Trump criticized Mr. Obama for not doing enough to reduce costs.

“Would you rather have a black president or a white president who got $1.7 billion from the price?” He asked Mr. Trump to the crowd, which cheered in response.

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