Soon after Donald Trump’s August 17 announcement of a new campaign leadership team came word that he would reconsider his position on creating a “deportation force” to remove undocumented immigrants, and make a concerted pitch to African Americans for their support.
But Trump has a funny way of reaching out to non-white voters—for instance, dropping an ad last week showing hordes of brown people coming into the country and posing a threat to the nation’s security, telling African-Americans their lives are miserable, or hiring a campaign chief who presides over a website which “has become a haven for white nationalists,” according to journalist Sarah Posner.
For her report at Mother Jones, Posner interviewed newly minted Trump campaign CEO Stephen K. Bannon, who has taken a leave of absence from his position as chief executive at Breitbart News, about the evolution of the site since he assumed the lead role in the wake of founder Andrew Breitbart’s death.
“We're the platform for the alt-right,” Bannon told Posner, who interviewed him at an event that took place in Cleveland during the Republican National Convention.
Posner explains the “alt-right” this way:
By bringing on Stephen Bannon, Trump was signaling a wholehearted embrace of the “alt-right,” a once-motley assemblage of anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, ethno-nationalistic provocateurs who have coalesced behind Trump and curried the GOP nominee's favor on social media. In short, Trump has embraced the core readership of Breitbart News.
If you’ve any doubts about the racism inherent to the alt-right movement, just peruse the Twitter hashtag #altright, and see what comes up.
Since Posner’s report was published on Monday, the white nationalist website The Daily Stormer, which describes Trump as “our glorious leader,” has unleashed a torrent of anti-Semitic invective on Posner, who is Jewish. Other Jewish reporters and political consultants have come in for the same treatment in alt-right Twitter assaults over the course of the Trump campaign. The candidate, whom Fortune magazine reported has retweeted the Twitter postings from known white-supremacist accounts some 75 times, has yet to condemn them.
So what of Trump’s foreshadowed “pivot” on matters of race? I’m not to the first to observe that if such a pivot ever does take place, it will be a bid for the ballots of white, suburban swing voters. And that’s likely why Trump, as he appointed the race-baiting Bannon to lead his campaign, also elevated Republican pollster Kellyanne Conway to the role of campaign manager. On the August 21 edition of CNN’s State of the Union Sunday talk show, Conway suggested that Trump might change his tune on his promised “deportation forces.” Campaign-watchers took this to mean he would unveil a tweaked immigration strategy during a speech scheduled for Thursday that was to have been devoted to the topic of immigration. Then the speech was canceled.
Scheduled for the same day, Hillary Clinton, Trump’s Democratic opponent, has scheduled a speech devoted to the topic of the alt-right.
Trump, many say, is trying to have it both ways: appeal to swing voters while not losing his core base of racists and misanthropes. But he’s likely trying to have it more ways than those. Trump is, above all, a businessman with a strong belief in the lowest common denominator, and as such, is likely looking past the election and assessing the possibility that he may lose. That core base, as The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent has pointed out, could form a ready-made audience for a post-election media enterprise. In that case, his campaign partnership with Bannon and adviser Roger Ailes (the recently ousted Fox News director who is reportedly advising Trump) makes a whole lot of sense.
But Trump being Trump, he’s also unlikely at this point to see the election as a lost cause—because, well, that would make him a loser, and you know how he feels about those kind of people. His campaign operatives are telling the press that Clinton’s support among African Americans is soft; that if you remind black voters about Bill Clinton’s crime policies, which led to massive levels of incarceration for black men, they’re less inclined to vote for Hillary Clinton (who expressed support for the policy at the time, but has since expressed regrets).
Roger Stone, the longtime GOP operative and dirty-trickster advising Trump put it this way, according to The Washington Post:
“Black voters have no affinity for Hillary Clinton,” Stone said. “She’s done nothing for them. … Bill Clinton has an affinity to black voters, and it’s stylistic: He slips on the shades, plays the saxophone, how cool. But most black voters don’t know about the 1994 crime bill, and they need to be educated.”
Depress the turnout among African Americans, the thinking goes, and Trump has a shot at winning by plurality, if not an outright majority, especially if Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson pulls additional votes from Clinton.
It seems unlikely that Trump could make a credible pitch to non-whites at this stage of the campaign he has built of racial resentment. Hence his recent shout-out to black voters—asking what they had to lose if they voted for him—delivered at a rally whose audience was almost entirely white. From a report in The Washington Post:
“Look,” he added, “it is a disaster the way African Americans are living, in many cases, and, in many cases the way Hispanics are living, and I say it with such a deep-felt feeling. What do you have to lose?”
Stephen Colbert, host of CBS’s The Late Show, boiled the message down to this: “You’re already on fire so you may as well shoot yourself in the head.”
NBC News reports that the Trump campaign made a $4 million TV buy for his threatening-brown-hordes ad in Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina, where it was scheduled to begin airing on August 19, and continue through August 29. So much for the grand pivot.
When Trump repudiates his racist followers and stops stoking their fears, we’ll know he’s serious about reaching out to non-whites.