Making a quick pitch to black voters

Mr Trump and reality TV personality Omarosa Manigault, director of African-American outreach for his campaign, attending a service at the Great Faith Ministries International Church on Saturday. In his first visit to an African-American church, he to
Mr Trump and reality TV personality Omarosa Manigault, director of African-American outreach for his campaign, attending a service at the Great Faith Ministries International Church on Saturday. In his first visit to an African-American church, he told the congregation that "those who seek office do not do enough to step into the community" and that he was there to listen to their concerns.PHOTO: REUTERS

DETROIT • Mr Donald Trump made a brief visit to a black church in the heart of this majority-black city, the latest step in his faltering and often awkward effort to soften the edges of a candidacy hardened by racially tinged appeals that have resonated primarily with white Republicans.

In what the pastor said was Mr Trump's first visit to an African- American church, the GOP presidential nominee swayed to gospel music, held a baby, accepted a prayer shawl and told the congregation that he was there to listen to their concerns.

Then, he left the Saturday service before it was half over, briefly visited the childhood home of former rival Ben Carson and jetted out of town.

"Our nation is too divided," Mr Trump said at Great Faith Ministries International Church, reading from a script to a congregation that half filled the sanctuary but greeted him with polite applause.

"We talk past each other, not to each other. And those who seek office do not do enough to step into the community and learn what's going on. They don't know. They have no clue."

It was another jarring shift in tone and message for the Republican nominee who has wavered back and forth in recent attempts to appeal to African-Americans and other minority groups who overwhelmingly oppose him, while holding fast to sharp criticism of the Black Lives Matter movement, calls for tougher policing and a plan to forcibly eject millions of undocumented immigrants from the country.

While several members of Great Faith Ministries said they were impressed that he visited their church and are willing to consider him, others were sceptical of his motives.

"When somebody wants something from you, and they say the right words... I would have liked to hear him say those things before he wanted something," said Ms Kim Witten, who has belonged to the church for 20 years and usually votes for Democrats, although she is still praying about this election.

Mr Nathan Liverman, 29, a Detroit small business owner said of Mr Trump's message that "you could feel it was authentic, that it was to heart". Mr Liverman, however, was wearing a "Hillary for Prison" T-shirt under his blazer .

Before the 1930s, most African- Americans were registered Republicans and voted that way. But they have voted overwhelmingly for Democratic presidential candidates starting in 1936, when Franklin D. Roosevelt received 71 per cent of the black vote, peaking at 96 per cent for Mr Barack Obama's election as the first African-American president in 2008.

Republicans John McCain and Mitt Romney received 4 per cent of the black vote in 2008 and 6 per cent in 2012, respectively.

In an average of Washington Post-ABC News polls for July and August, Mr Trump had the support of 3 per cent of black voters, while Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton was at 91 per cent.

Outside the church on Saturday, local Democrats and a group of local faith leaders held news conferences to denounce Mr Trump. A few hundred protesters gathered, some carrying signs reading, "Mr Hate, Leave My State" and "Stop the racist!"

WASHINGTON POST

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 05, 2016, with the headline 'Making a quick pitch to black voters'. Print Edition | Subscribe