Former NFL player Jack Brewer once raised campaign money for President Barack Obama, but now he’s among the increasing number of black voters who support President Trump.
“There is an awakening going on right now in the country,” Mr. Brewer said of black voters who traditionally support Democrats. “I’m going to take the guy who’s actually putting in the policies that are going to make life better for my young black son and my young black daughter, versus somebody who gives me lip service — like, unfortunately, the Democrats have done for our community for years.”
Mr. Trump and his reelection team are aggressively courting black voters amid a strong economy that has reduced black unemployment to 5.5%, lowest in history. The Trump campaign launched its “Black Voices for Trump” coalition in Atlanta last month.
“The Democrats have let you down,” Mr. Trump told black supporters at the time. “They’ve dismissed you. They’ve hurt you. They’ve sabotaged you for far too long.”
The campaign also has paid for full-page, full-color advertisements promoting Mr. Trump in 11 local black newspapers across the nation, and radio spots on urban radio stations nationwide.
There’s some evidence that the president’s policies and campaign outreach are making inroads with black voters. Three polls in November showed Mr. Trump’s job-approval rating among black voters in the 30% to 35% range, a significant increase over other surveys that have generally shown black voter support of less than 10%.
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“I’ll remind you, the president received 8% of the black vote in 2016,” said a senior Trump campaign official.
The president and his campaign advisers know that poll numbers and approval ratings don’t always translate into votes, but they think Mr. Trump has a good chance to significantly increase the level of support he receives from black voters in 2020.
“If you look at how they attacked him for being a racist during the  campaign, I think his policies have [produced] results for the black community that have been extraordinary,” the campaign official said during a recent briefing.
Said another Trump adviser, “One thing the president’s done is to try to govern for everybody. Even those who didn’t vote for him in the last election are now seeing a lot of results in their communities, and we’re seeing the poll numbers amongst all those groups grow in a way that creates a lot of opportunities.”
Trump advisers point to other policies that are helping, such as criminal justice reform that lets more offenders win early release from prison and a second chance, and increased funding for Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
Mr. Brewer, a lifelong Democrat and entrepreneur who played for three NFL teams, said Mr. Trump is working much harder than any Republican candidate in his lifetime to reach out to black voters.
“Donald Trump will get over 20% of the black vote,” Mr. Brewer said in an interview. “That is what’s going to win the election. Why? Because there hasn’t been a Republican to even try to go in and talk to the black community. They don’t go there. They don’t even try. I think he’s trying, finally.”
But Democratic leaders say Mr. Trump is a racially divisive president who attacks outspoken black people as a “dog whistle” to appeal to white voters, and that black voters will not join his campaign in significant numbers. They point to episodes such as Mr. Trump’s high-profile feuds with several black athletes, his attacks on Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and three other freshman lawmakers of color known as “The Squad,” even his comparing his impeachment in a tweet to a lynching.
Rep. Karen Bass, California Democrat and chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, said Mr. Trump falls back on racial rhetoric when he wants to create a distraction from his “corrupted behavior.”
“Every time his back is up against the wall, he throws out the red meat of racial rhetoric and attacks communities of color, but the American people aren’t taking the bait,” Ms. Bass said after the president’s tweet about being lynched.
The CBC also said after Mr. Trump’s impeachment last week by House Democrats that black people “have lost a lot since President Trump was sworn into office.”
“The list of regressive and racist policies proposed by Donald Trump’s administration is long and sad,” the CBC said in a statement. “To add insult to injury, we have to hear him and his supporters tout the lowest black unemployment rate in history even though he inherited President Barack Obama’s economy and has never championed a single policy or program for black people. They also fail to acknowledge that the black unemployment rate remains almost twice that of our white counterparts in the midst of a growing racial wealth divide. The strongest stock market in history means nothing to you if you’re working two or three jobs at today’s minimum wage and still can’t make ends meet.”
Katrina Pierson, a senior adviser with the Trump campaign, said it’s beyond dispute “that African Americans have been benefiting from President Trump’s policies.”
“Four years ago, the president asked the black community, ‘What do you have to lose;’ now we are thinking, ‘Imagine what we stand to gain!,’” she said as the campaign launched its “Black Voices for Trump” coalition last month.
The liberal Brookings Institution said in a recent report that the five U.S. metropolitan areas with the largest black populations — New York, Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas and Washington, D.C. — have seen black median household incomes increase from 7% in Washington to 21% in Atlanta. Trump campaign officials say more than 1.4 million new jobs have been created for black workers since Mr. Trump’s inauguration.
Speaking to young conservative supporters last weekend at a Florida conference hosted by Turning Point USA, Mr. Trump said he is “so proud of what we’ve done with African American and Hispanic American [employment] numbers.”
The president said Democrats “have abandoned” black people.
“Before the election, they start courting” black voters, he said. “The election is over and then they leave them. We did just the opposite. What we’ve done for Hispanic, for African American, for minorities — what we’ve done is unprecedented.”
Mr. Trump and his campaign team say he is reshaping a new Republican coalition.
“Every day, we’re welcoming more and more people to our movement from every background — traditional Democrats, independent, union members,” the president said. “We’re growing untraditionally. We’re taking in workers now. The Republican Party is growing like nobody’s ever seen before.”
He said his economic record will make him tough for Democrats to beat next year, and it will be an effective defense against liberals’ accusation that he is racially divisive.
“When I’m on the debate stage with one of these characters and they try and say negative stuff, I’ll just say: well, here’s the story — in the history of our country, this group is doing the best, and that group is doing the best and the women are doing the best,” Mr. Trump told supporters at a campaign rally in Michigan on the day of his impeachment.
Some Trump allies say the president’s appeal in the black community stems partly from his reputation as a “badass,” and Mr. Brewer agrees with that assessment. Before the 2016 election, Mr. Brewer reviewed hip-hop songs by black artists that were favorable to Mr. Trump.
“And, brother, there were hundreds,” Mr. Brewer said. “There were probably 40 different rap artists that bragged about Trump before his election. He was an icon in the black community. His name was an adjective, just like [former NFL player] Randy Moss. When kids say you got ‘Mossed,’ that means that somebody jumped over you and caught a great catch. Trump has that same appeal to black people.”
Republican presidential candidates since 1976 have averaged 10% support from black voters, according to the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research, ranging from a low of 4% for John McCain in 2008 when he ran against Mr. Obama to 17% for Gerald Ford in 1976.
“Trump’s 8% of the black vote in 2016 is thus not at all unusual,” Gallup senior scientist Frank Newport wrote in a recent post. “Barring an extraordinary event that produces a surge in support for Trump nationally, history projects that his share of the black vote will be similarly low in 2020. The history of consistently low black voting for GOP candidates over the past four decades also underscores the structural challenge any Republican candidate faces in attempting to increase their black vote share.”
Mr. Brewer said the impeachment affair, coupled with the revelation that the FBI abused its power in obtaining surveillance warrants for Trump campaign officials, are also causing black voters to view Mr. Trump more sympathetically.
“That’s what it feels like to be black,” Mr. Brewer said. “Black people have been abused and taken advantage of by the police and the FBI since the beginning of time. When you talk about the FBI changing up documents and pushing a narrative, and they don’t have any recourse? That’s very familiar to black people.”
He acknowledged that some of Mr. Trump’s rhetoric turns him off, such as when the president referred to former NFL player Colin Kaepernick and others who knelt during the national anthem to protest police brutality as “sons of bitches.”
“I don’t like his language a lot of times,” Mr. Brewer said. “But that doesn’t mean that I’m going to deny the policies. I know how far we’ve come. I want the end to be a better livelihood for us. So if I have a guy who may be a hot head and says things sometimes that may make you mad, I’m going to chose policy over personality.”