NORTH CHARLESTON, SC — Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump spoke at an event on Thursday co-sponsored by the South Carolina African American Chamber of Commerce, but almost all of the audience was white.
At least a third of the seats in the auditorium remained empty while Trump spoke, but most of the roughly 500 people in attendance were white, Southern, loyal Trump supporters — one of the groups that has so far made up his base. At both that event and a town hall in Columbia later that day hosted by South Carolina’s African American Sen. Tim Scott (R), Trump boasted that he’s polling well with the minority group and can win the general election as a result.
“A poll came out — the shock poll,” he said during both campaign stops, taking a piece of paper out of his jacket pocket that presumably had results of the recent SurveyUSA poll which showed that he’d win 25 percent of the black vote in a general election match-up against Hillary Clinton.
“It’s a great poll,” Trump continued. “That’s an enormous number and I think it’s going to be higher than that.”
Despite what Trump sees as his apparent success, leaders of the Republican Party continue to maintain that he sets the party back in its efforts to appeal to African Americans and other minorities. And other recent polls do not show Trump with as much support from African Americans — he got only 3 percent of black support in a match-up against Clinton in a Quinnipiac University poll from August.
The New Yorker wrote last month about how Trump is appealing to white nationalists across the country — a group that was reemerging just as Trump launched his campaign. Though the African American Chamber of Commerce event was strikingly devoid of African Americans, the white Trump supporters who attended had strong opinions on race.
“I think the black community should be first in addressing their problems,” Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina resident Margarita Lynn told ThinkProgress when asked if Trump could bridge the racial divide in the country. “I think the black community is held hostage to a small minority of black criminals, and until the black community itself rises up to protect themselves against this small element of black criminals that are overpowering their communities, very little can be done.”
Lynn wrote a letter published in The Post and Courier in which she refuted conservative columnist George Will’s claim that Trump taints the conservative brand, saying that “going after Donald Trump with insults, insinuations of racism and disparaging comments makes Will look like an Eastern intellectual snob.”
One reason Trump has been viewed as having a negative relationship with black voters is his reaction to the Black Lives Matter movement. He has said he would beat up activists if they tried to interrupt one of his campaign events and he has also said that we need to give more power back to police.
“The black community is in dear need of the police,” Lynn said, agreeing with Trump. “The first group that will suffer if the police stop going into their neighborhoods is the black community… For every white cop or black cop that dies, we don’t see the hoopla that happens when somebody else dies.”
Retired New Jersey police officer Brian Murphy also told ThinkProgress that Trump “stands for what the people feel” and would be the best person to lead the country, even though he won’t appeal to a number of minorities.
“We’re trying to appease so many groups in life, it’s just not possible,” he said. “When you become a leader — I was vice president of my union — 50 percent of the people instantly dislike you.”
Murphy also agreed with Trump that the power balance should continue to lean toward police.
“I just think crime has gotten worse along racial lines because sometimes it seems like the laws don’t apply to certain people,” he said. “Too many people are too quick to judge a cop…I don’t think it’s a racial issue like Black Lives Matter. I don’t agree with that statement. I do agree with All Lives Matter. To me it’s like, how dare you single that out.”
There were a few black audience members who said they’d consider voting for Trump. Tony Lewis, who serves on the local school board, said he’s not set on Trump but he’s willing to “give him a fair opportunity and chance, just like you give everybody else.” Columbia resident Frank Mitchell, one of the few African American small business owners in attendance, said Trump’s comments on business resonated with him. “I don’t see him being racist or anything,” he said, adding that would consider voting for either Trump or Joe Biden.
And Hugh Harmon, a public relations person with the African American Chamber of Commerce, told ThinkProgress the group wanted its members to hear what Trump has to say, directly from his mouth.
Across the country, Trump has secured at least a few black supporters. The president of the Republicans for Black Empowerment told the Daily Beast that Trump has a “certain swagger about him that I think registers with people.” His name recognition and business and entertainment experience also helps him reach out to people not normally invested in politics. Videos of two black sisters from North Carolina — both Trump supporters who call themselves the “Stump for Trump Girls” — have gone viral.
Sen. Scott also asked Trump during the town hall about the media’s depiction of his “difficult relationship with minorities.”
“I would disagree, being one,” Sen. Scott said to laughs from the audience. He then said that Trump’s meeting with the African American Chamber of Commerce “seems to be in opposition to this whole notion that you have a challenge with minorities.”
“My relationship with African American people and businesses has been fantastic,” Trump responded.