With Hillary Clinton racking up more overwhelming victories in Super Tuesday primaries thanks to the overwhelming support of African-American voters, the conventional wisdom is that she has the black vote on lock down. She might be wrong.
Additionally, she’s also getting not so subtle signs of support from Obama White House insiders and a few shout-outs from President Obama himself. Initially, the president promised to remain neutral until the primary season was over, but he recently appeared to ever so gently open the door to an endorsement of his former secretary of State sooner than expected.
Personally, I never thought Obama would wait that long, not after what Bill Clinton did for him at the Democratic National Convention in 2012 to help energize his re-election campaign. I suspect Obama would love nothing more than to even the score by repaying the debt he owes the Clintons. Politics is funny. First, they run against each other in a nasty campaign with racial overtones, then they feign friendship and work together, then Bill gallops in to help Barack win a second term, and now Hillary needs the president’s support to win the presidency. Talk about triangulation.
Nonetheless, the conventional wisdom is that black voters have forgiven the Clintons for their attempt to diminish Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign, and this time around, they’ve got Hillary’s back. Except everyone knows that in this presidential election cycle, conventional wisdom left the building long before the train ever left the station. Something tells me that if Donald Trump is indeed the Republican nominee, it might be a miscalculation for Democrats to assume that black voters are a lock for their nominee, even with the first black president and Barack Obama both campaigning for her.
For starters, charisma, charm and likeability aren’t transferable. While the chance to elect the first woman president is indeed tantalizing for many, in black America specifically, it’s not exactly the same as watching an African-American first family taking up residence at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. Indeed, even women haven’t as yet rallied en masse around Hillary the way black folk did around Obama.
Second, the number of everyday black voters who we assume will dismiss Trump because of his anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim attacks might well be inflated. While I certainly have had my say about Trump being a “religious and racial arsonist” (and he responded quickly on Twitter), not everyone in black America agrees with me. I have been taken by myriad conversations I’ve had with black folk who don’t find those comments by Trump necessarily or automatically disqualifying. In the coming days, we will see whether his initial refusal last Sunday on CNN to disavow the endorsement of David Duke, the Ku Klux Klan and white supremacy might anger black voters. Interestingly, almost two months ago, CNN ran a story about a white supremacist group doing robocalls for Trump in Iowa. He didn’t denounce them then and seems to not have suffered for it.
Third, though it is true that black/brown political coalitions have had strategic successes, it is also true that there have been plenty of other occasions where the interests of black and brown voters didn’t exactly align. In California where I live, Latinos are still smarting from the lack of black voter support in 1994 to help defeat the anti-immigrant Proposition 187. At best, it’s a big assumption to think that both the black political establishment and everyday black voters share the same sentiment on Trump’s anti-immigrant stance. Scary, but honestly, I’m not so sure.
Fourth, it’s telling how quiet the black elite have been, those who travel in social circles with Trump, even as he has been taken to task time and again for his racial if not racist language. There have been some exceptions — Harry Belafonte and Danny Glover come to mind — but the relative silence of the black establishment class has been chilling. Recently, I read a national newspaper feature about Trump and his relationships with notable high-profile black Americans. Interestingly, nobody really wanted to go on record criticizing The Donald.
I’ve talked privately to some of Trump’s black friends since I read that piece, and to a person, their critique of him is highly nuanced. Men and women from black America’s most privileged class, either genuinely like this guy or they’re afraid of being caught in his social media meat grinder. Those whose job it is to comment on politics have been strong in condemning Trump, but those who earn their wealth elsewhere have been too quiet. In any event, it’s going to be interesting to watch how these BFOTs (black friends of Trump) support the Democratic nominee even as they try to remain neutral on Trump.
Finally, it’s mind-numbing to some of us that a reckless member of the billionaire class has somehow convinced hardworking, everyday people that he is their savior. But all rich guys aren’t created equal. Ultimately, Trump’s policies might not be that different from what Mitt Romney’s would have been, but they apparently sound different to working class voters.
For many black voters, I think it’s fair to say that, at the moment, at least, Trump is no Romney.
Consequently, 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 much he might skim? In a close election, it might not take much.