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Trump’s ‘strategy of trotting out black people to support him’ is backfiring, according to new poll

Trump may never repair the damage caused by his embrace of the 'birther' conspiracy.

President Donald Trump and Omarosa Manigault, in happier times. (Photo by Michael Reynolds - Pool/Getty Images)
President Donald Trump and Omarosa Manigault, in happier times. (Photo by Michael Reynolds - Pool/Getty Images)

Just as in a “Where’s Waldo?” puzzle, a solitary, hard-to-identify black person typically appears somewhere in the bokeh of faces behind Donald Trump when he speaks to cheering crowds.

On some occasions, it’s possible to spot a well-known person like Kanye West or Dennis Rodman grinning next to Trump. Sometimes it’s one of a handful of internet celebrities like Diamond and Silk or Candace Owens who are found seeking a measure of fame by proximity to the POTUS.  But more often than not, it’s some relatively unknown person, going to some lengths to ensure they’re not overlooked by wearing a t-shirt or waving a sign that identifies them as a member of the “Blacks For Trump” tribe.

Of course, the black stand-ins are pure Trump-style showmanship, a human product placement scheme meant to suggest against evidence and reason that this president is popular among black Americans. Don’t believe the hype.

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In fact, based on the findings in a recent National Association for the Advancement of Colored People poll of prospective 2018 midterm voters in 61 of the most competitive congressional races, Trump is so despised by African American voters — as well as, all other voters of color — that it threatens a Blue Wave that could wash away Republican control in the U.S. House of Representatives. The NAACP poll found a 13-point advantage (51 percent to 38 percent with 11 percent undecided) for Democratic candidates over the Republican candidate in the targeted House races among all voters.

“Our analysis shows President Trump’s racism is a major factor in both why and how people will vote in the midterm elections,” NAACP President Derrick Johnson said in a statement accompanying the release of group’s study. “The poll confirms how Trump’s racism has not only divided the nation and polluted policy, but also serves as a key factor in motivating voters of color to disrupt politics as usual on a national scale.”

Specifically, the poll found that no racial or ethnic group reported majority approval of his administration or policies. Black voters reported the most negative approval assessment (79 percent), followed by Latino voters (65 percent). White voters were the most generous of those surveyed with 50 percent approving of the job he’s doing. Overall, 57 percent of those surveyed reported disapproving of the president.

Researchers with the African American Research Collaborative (AARC) and Latino Decisions, who conducted the poll for the NAACP, contacted 2,045 registered voters in 61 congressional districts that they identified as most competitive based on data by Cook, CNN and Crystal Ball. The poll has a margin of error of +/- 2.1 percent.

(Full disclosure: I serve as an unpaid adviser to the AARC, but had no role in the NAACP polling project.)

One of the most intriguing inquiries made by the poll assessed the effectiveness of Trump’s efforts to leverage the celebrity of a few carefully selected black luminaries in an effort to drive up Trump’s support among black voters. Clearly, it’s not been successful, as the NAACP poll findings found:

Trump’s strategy of trotting out black people to support him is not working, if it is intended to inspire African American support for him or his policies. Black celebrities like Kanye West or Dennis Rodman who support Trump do not help Trump’s support among African American voters. To the contrary, more than three times as many black voters say that black celebrities speaking on Trump’s behalf makes them less interested in listening to or supporting Trump’s ideas than black voters who say it would make them more open to listening to or supporting Trump’s ideas. A majority of black voters say these celebrities have no impact.

Henry Fernandez, a founder and principal with AARC, said in an interview that black surrogates for Trump can’t overcome the self-inflicted damage that Trump has done in his relationships with black communities.

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“First, Trump’s disrespect of black people in general and black women in particular speaks for itself louder than any message from black supporters trotted out by Trump,” said Fernandez, who is also a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress. “Second, there is a long history of individual black people who profit either financially or through a desire for more attention by being spokespeople for anti-black policies and politicians.  African-Americans know this history and are offended when Trump trots out black people for this purpose.”

What’s more, Fernandez said earlier polling conducted by AARC showed that black Americans don’t look to pop culture celebrities for voting advice, ranking “black celebrities/athletes/entertainers” near the bottom of a list of effective messengers in black communities. “From polling we did in 2016, we know that black voters trust information from professors and other experts and not celebrities on political issues,” Fernandez said.  “African Americans want to hear from people who know what they are talking about and who clearly care about the black community.”

Nothing in the NAACP poll’s findings should come as a surprise, given the hostility Trump has long displayed toward issues and personalities that are popular with black Americans. For decades, Trump has used racist imagery of black people as an attention-gathering prop to promote himself, going back to his taking out a newspaper ad falsely claiming five black men — known as the Central Park 5 — were guilty of raping a white woman even after they they were exonerated of the crime. More recently, Trump was the nation’s leading birther advocate, erroneously spreading the disproven rumor that Barack Obama was born outside the United States and therefore unqualified to be president.

In fact, as Bloomberg’s Joshua Green ably documented, Trump’s embrace of birtherism played a key role in destroying the affection he’d managed to garner among minorities during his suprisingly successful run as the face of NBC’s “The Apprentice.” As Green reported, the show’s creators “featured their minority contestants in a role that departed from how minority characters were historically portrayed on television and in movies: The Apprentice presented them as striving, ambitious entrepreneurs.” This translated into high “Q ratings” for Trump, who for a time was “was even more popular with black and Hispanic viewers than he was with white audiences” — despite the fact that he “was the furthest thing from a racial innocent.”

But when Trump went birther, he put all of that fragile goodwill to the torch. Ratings for “The Apprentice” began to crater in the spring of 2011, and his vaunted “Q rating” went down along with it. “Trump’s positive Q Score among blacks fell from its high of 27, in 2010, to 21 the next year, then to 10, and to 9, before bottoming out at 6 in 2014,” wrote Green. “That same year, his negative Q Score, which had floated in the 30s, skyrocketed to 55.”

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Since becoming president, Trump hasn’t let up, angering black Americans with racist statements attacking black professional football players who have protested police brutality and questioning the intelligence of African Americans, such as Rep. Maxine Waters and LeBron James, who have publicly disagreed with his policies or statements.

In the NAACP poll, 81 percent of the respondents said they were angry at Trump for something he has said or done since and 82 percent said they felt disrespected by something Trump said or had done. Among white respondents, 61 percent said they were angry and 50 percent said they felt disrespected by something Trump said or had done.

Jamal R. Watkins, the NAACP’s Vice President of Civic Engagement, said in a statement that the civil rights organization will use the poll’s findings to help mobilize voters to participate come November.

“Black voters and voters of color will play a key role in the midterm elections,” Watkins said. “There is a huge opportunity for us to address the voter’s feelings of disenchantment and disrespect by the president and the political establishment as a means to motivate them to take action at the polls. Since the conclusion of the 2016 Presidential cycle we have been traumatized by those in Washington who continue to try and divide us by race and class. Our response has to be to replace these bad actors come this November.”