President Trump hailed the achievements of African-Americans Thursday at a White House ceremony marking Black History Month, saying blacks have enriched U.S. culture, deepened America’s faith and “raised up our conscience.”
“In every field, every generation, and every calling, African-Americans have lifted up our nation to new heights — and, like all citizens, you are entitled to a government that puts your needs, your interests, and your families first,” Mr. Trump told a packed crowd in the East Room that included hundreds of African-American leaders.
The president said his policies are improving life for all Americans, including blacks. He cited his tax cuts, special “opportunity zones” that encourage investment in distressed neighborhoods, criminal-justice reform and increased funding for historically black colleges and universities.
“African-American unemployment has reached an all-time low,” Mr. Trump said. “African-American youth unemployment has reached a record low. The African-American poverty rate has plummeted to the lowest rate in history. My administration is fighting for great jobs, great schools, great health care, and a truly great future for African-Americans and all Americans.”
The celebration coincided with the 150th anniversary of the 15th Amendment, which gave black men the right to vote.
Among those in the crowd were conservative commentator Candace Owens; actor and comedian Terrence K. Williams; actor Isaiah Washington; pastor Darrell Scott of Cleveland, Ohio; Alveda King; “Diamond and Silk” figures Lynette Hardaway and Rochelle Richardson; criminal-justice reform advocate Angela Stanton-King; boxing champion Andre Berto and former NFL player and entrepreneur Jack Brewer.
The event came two days after Trump campaign officials outlined their efforts to attract more black voters to the president’s side this year. The effort in seven swing states includes opening 15 field offices or “community centers,” where campaign staff and volunteers will court black voters with brochures, celebrity events and “woke”-brand gear.
Mr. Trump received about 8% support from black voters in 2016, and campaign officials believe he can improve on that significantly in November.
“At minimum, we’re double from where we were in 2016,” campaign manager Brad Parscale said at a media briefing this week. He said the president’s approval rating among blacks goes up “40 to 50 points” when poll tested directly instead of through a media “filter.”
At a Trump campaign rally in Las Vegas last week, Mr. Parscale noted, 27% of the attendees were blacks, Latinos or other non-whites.
Republican Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina predicts that Mr. Trump will get at least 12% of the black vote in 2020.
“And that is ‘game over,’” he said on Fox News.
He noted Mr. Trump’s criminal-justice reforms are helping blacks disproportionately.
“President Trump is not just talking a good game, he is walking a good game,” Mr. Scott said.
Mr. Trump received a 14% job-approval rating from blacks last week in a Wall Street Journal/NBC poll. The survey found that 84% of blacks disapprove of the president’s performance, and 69% strongly disapprove.
But 23% approved of his handling of the economy.
GOP strategists are saying that Mr. Trump doesn’t need to win a big share of black voters. But if he increases his black support by 50% from 2016, it would create big problems for the Democratic nominee in several battleground states.
A survey by the independent black group BlackPAC this week showed that 70% of black voters intend to support the Democratic Party’s nominee this year. But more than a third of those surveyed said they would like “someone else” to run for the Democratic nomination. And, according to the poll, Mr. Trump is already at 12% support among black voters.
BlackPAC also found that 28% of respondents reported either seeing Mr. Trump’s campaign ads, receiving mail or being contacted directly by the campaign.
“Democrats are in danger of repeating 2016 by failing to bring back together and unify key elements of the Obama coalition,” said Cornell Belcher, founder and president of Brilliant Corners Research and Strategies, which conducted the poll.