Hillary Clinton has the overwhelming support of black voters in the 2016 Democratic primary, but the general election might be a different story against Republican Donald Trump and his pledge to unlock the establishment’s stronghold on the economy.
Nobody expects Trump or any GOP presidential nominee to win the majority of the black vote, which has been with Democrats since the mid-1930s.
However, the Trump pro-jobs message that has attracted so many disaffected white, blue-collar voters also appears to be resonating with a percentage of black voters equally frustrated by chronic unemployment and unfulfilled promises of change.
“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 primary with more than 80 percent of the African-American vote, according to exit polls.
“I’m a New Yorker, too,” Nelson continued. “I know where he’s coming from. Nobody controls Donald Trump.”
Exactly how many million black voters Trump would need is impossible to guess -- considering other factors like overall voter turnout, who wins the battleground states and whether independents break for the Democratic or Republican nominee.
However, Trump would have to do significantly better than the 6 percent 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney got in 2012 or the 4 percent the GOP’s John McCain got in 2008 against Barack Obama, who became the country’s first black president.
(Republican President Gerald Ford won highest percent of the black vote in recent years -- 16 percent -- but still lost to Democratic nominee Jimmy Carter.)
“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,” influential black political commentator Tavis Smiley, wrote in a recent USA Today op-ed story.
“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.”
Clinton has since South Carolina in early February continued winning the black vote in large numbers across the South.
And she has secured a long list of influential African-American endorsements, from actor Morgan Freeman to civil right icon Georgia Democratic Rep. John Lewis, while the front-running Trump appears to be struggling to make grassroots connections.
Online videos appear to show Black Lives Matters activists protesting and disrupting recent rallies, as Trump can be heard in the background telling security to “throw them out.”
And critics say he failed during a recent national TV appearance to unequivocally disavow support from the Klu Klux Klan.
Democratic and Republican strategists seem to agree that the billionaire businessman Trump has at least captured the interest of black voters.
“Up until the KKK thing, he had been doing pretty well,” Douglas Smith, a Democratic strategist and partner at Kent Strategies, said Tuesday. “He oozes this appearance that everybody can fly in a gold jet and have a mansion. I think it’s his signature charisma.”
Smith nevertheless suspects Trump will ultimately come up short because he doesn’t have the “deep well of support” with the African-America community like Clinton has -- built after roughly 40 years of public service.
And he says Trump lacks the ground game and the kind of party support that will coalesce around Clinton or Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders if he becomes the party nomination.
“You just can’t add water,” Smith said.
Republican strategist Rob Burgess thinks some of Trump’s appeal is indeed in policy, specifically his promise of universal healthcare that improves on what Obama has provided.
“I will not let people die on the streets for lack of health care,” he roared in a debate last month.
However, Burgess thinks other black voters believe Trump will indeed end the establishment’s control of the U.S economy and much of the country’s wealth and that “he can sway some black voters … due to his charisma.”
The Rev. Issac Holt, senior pastor at the Royal Missionary Baptist Church, in North Charleston, S.C., visited by the Clinton and Sanders’ campaigns, thinks the wildcard for Trump or any other GOP nominee is the energy they are bringing to the race, compared to the Democrats. But they need to get into the communities.
“What’s missing is the enthusiasm,” he said. “In South Carolina, they didn’t even seek the black vote, in my opinion.”