President Donald Trump held what amounted to a mini-rally with nearly 300 young black supporters inside the White House on Friday, replete with campaign-style chants of “USA!” and “four more years!”
“You broke the sound barrier,” Trump told the audience of African American students and young professionals, who greeted him with chants and cheers inside the White House’s East Room. “I’ve never heard it quite like that, and I appreciate it. We love you.”
With an eye on the 2020 election, the president delivered his pitch to black voters — and aired his grievances — in true Trumpian fashion. He not only touted historically low unemployment among black Americans but also conducted a roll call of his top black supporters, calling out some of his African American critics while slamming Democrats and the news media along the way.
At one point, Trump also credited African Americans for building the country, a seeming reference to their ancestors’ role as slaves.
“You know, you’re just starting to get real credit for that, OK,” Trump said. “I don’t know if you know that, you’re just starting to get — you built the nation. We all built it, but you were such a massive part of it. Bigger than you were given credit for. Does that make sense?”
It was a stark contrast from the president who over the summer told four progressive congresswomen of color to go back to where they came from and blasted Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings’ congressional district as “a disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess.”
Friday’s speech marked the second time in the past month Trump participated in an event with an overwhelmingly black audience. In September, he addressed leaders of historically black colleges and universities.
Trump made both broad and personal appeals to black voters Friday. He praised conservative commentators Candace Owens and Terrence Williams and White House aide Ja’Ron Smith, individually inviting each of them to join him on stage. Trump complimented Smith for his role with the White House and commended Owens for her television appearances and Williams for his tweets about actress Debra Messing, a Trump foil.
Owens, Trump said, is a “star” who is not only “tough” but also “beautiful.”
“Under the #MeToo generation, we’re not allowed to say it,” Trump said. “So all of you young, brilliant guys, never, ever call a woman beautiful, please. You’re not allowed to do it.”
Despite some projections of a recession, Trump claimed the economy is doing so well that Americans are “finding jobs and they’re getting good jobs and if you don’t like that job you can get another one because you have a lot of choice.”
“While we are fighting every day to build up our nation, the far left only wants to wreck, ruin and destroy our nation,” he said. “And you know better than anybody, for the last three years, Democrat lawmakers, their deep-state cronies, the fake news media, they’ve been colluding in their effort to overturn the presidential election — 63 million people voted — and to nullify the votes of the American people and many African American people voted for Trump, even then. Now they like me more.”
Trump lost the national popular vote to Hillary Clinton in 2016 by roughly 3 million votes, 63 million to 65.8 million. He won just 8 percent of the black vote in 2016, and 81 percent of African American voters disapprove of his job as president, according to a recent POLITICO/Morning Consult poll.
Still, the Trump campaign hopes it can peel off enough black voters to boost turnout in key states next year, including Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, where Trump won by less than 1 percentage point.
The president argued that Democratic politicians have let down the African American community for more than 100 years but touted how black Americans have benefited from the Trump administration’s policies over the last three years.
“No one in America has been hurt more as a result of the Democrats’ corrupt leadership and socialist policies than our nation’s African American community,” Trump said. “It’s true. That’s true.”
Trump name-checked South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott for talking to him about “opportunity zones” to spur investment in distressed communities and credited himself for helping pass a bipartisan criminal justice reform bill.
But he took issue with CNN’s Van Jones and the Rev. Al Sharpton. Trump said Jones thanked Sharpton, who “was nowhere to be found” as the bill moved through Congress, on his show last month but excluded any mention of the president for his role in the bill’s passage. What Jones did do, Trump recalled, is urge voters to defeat Trump at the ballot box next November.
Trump derided Sharpton as a “conman” who “scared NBC into giving him a show” and insisted Jones called senior White House adviser Jared Kushner, who played a big role behind the scenes in the criminal justice bill’s passage, to apologize.
“He apologized,” Trump said. “But I don’t accept those apologies.”
After voicing support for law enforcement, Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Trump suggested a number of African Americans live near “brutal killers” and sometimes become their victims.
“They’re killers, but you’re tough,” he told the crowd. “You fight back. But sometimes you don’t win those fights because these guys are tough, too. They shouldn’t be in our country.”