Contest after contest has shown Hillary Clinton has the overwhelming support of black voters in the 2016 Democratic primary – but up against Donald Trump, the general election might be a different story.
To be sure, nobody expects Trump or any GOP presidential candidate to win the majority of the black vote, which has been with Democrats since the mid-1930s. Clinton has every reason to believe most black voters sticking with her in the primary against Bernie Sanders would do so in a general election as well.
However, analysts suggest that to consider the black vote a monolith for Clinton in November, should she win the nomination, would be a mistake. The Trump jobs message that has attracted so many disaffected white, blue-collar workers could resonate with black voters equally frustrated by chronic unemployment and unfulfilled promises of change – and Trump’s accelerating march toward the GOP nomination has proven his knack for bringing in voters who might not normally pick a Republican.
“If anything, he knows the economy,” Luz Nelson, a beautician and black South Carolina voter, said days before the front-running Clinton won the state Democratic primary with more than 80 percent of the black vote.
“I’m a New Yorker, too,” Nelson continued. “I know where he’s coming from. Nobody controls Donald Trump.”
Trump would have to do better than past GOP nominees — if he indeed is his party’s standard-bearer come November.
Then-Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney got just 6 percent in 2012. John McCain got even less, 4 percent, in 2008 against Barack Obama, who became the country’s first black president. Republican President Gerald Ford won the highest percentage of the black vote in modern history — 16 percent — but still lost to Democratic challenger Jimmy Carter.
Influential black political commentator Tavis Smiley recently cautioned Democrats that Trump’s appeal could cross not only party but racial lines.
“If Donald Trump is indeed the Republican nominee, it might be a miscalculation for Democrats to take for granted that black voters are a lock for their nominee, even with [Bill Clinton] and Barack Obama campaigning for her,” Smiley wrote in a USA Today op-ed.
“There is no reason to believe that if he is his party’s nominee, Donald Trump wouldn’t make a serious play for black voters. Who knows how many he might skim? In a close election, it might not take much.”
Black Lives Matters activists have protested and disrupting recent rallies, as Trump can be heard in the background of one event telling security to “throw them out.”
And critics say he failed during a recent national TV appearance to unequivocally disavow support from former Klu Klux Klan leader David Duke – though Trump has since disavowed it, and downplayed the controversy.
Democratic and Republican strategists seem to agree, though, that the billionaire businessman Trump – charisma, bravado and all – has at least captured the interest and curiosity of black voters.