Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump on Tuesday attempted yet again to reboot his struggling campaign with a tightly scripted speech on race and policing, in which he called for more police in America’s inner cities and accused Democrats of failing communities of color.
“Crime and violence is an attack on the poor and will never be accepted in a Trump administration,” Trump said, addressing a predominantly white group of supporters in West Bend, Wisconsin, a suburb 40 miles north of Milwaukee.
The GOP nominee tied his tough-on-crime remarks, in which he repeatedly referred to himself the “law and order” candidate, to the recent unrest in Milwaukee that followed the fatal police shooting of Sylville K. Smith, a 23-year-old black man arrested at a traffic stop.
Trump’s speech went over well with some television pundits, who awarded him points for managing to stay on message. But the speech failed to sway many leaders in the area’s black community. Instead, a number of them say Trump misunderstands the true nature of the problem.
“I thought it was pretty lame,” said Fred Royal, president of the Milwaukee branch of the NAACP. “It was a lame attempt to say that Donald Trump is the answer or the Republican Party is the answer to the African-American community, when we see how regressive he is on his immigration policies, when we see how liberal he is to giving more tax breaks to [the] richest 1 percent in the country.”
“I don’t see how his policies would have a positive impact on our community,” he added. “You can’t police your way out of poverty. The more poverty, the higher your crime rate will be. To put more police in an already over-policed community, you would have more problems.”
Lillie Wilson, president of the Waukesha County branch of the NAACP, accused Trump of engaging in “scare tactics.”
“I just think it’s nonsense on his part,” she said. “Donald Trump works with scare tactics, and that’s what that is. Trying to scare someone into thinking someone hasn’t done well for us, that someone will do better.”
Rather than visiting an area like the South Side of Chicago ― a move once suggested by one of his most prominent supporters, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich ― Trump delivered his remarks on Tuesday to a nearly all-white audience in a county with a population that is less than 1 percent black, miles away from the tumult gripping Milwaukee. The choice of venue was puzzling to many observers in Washington and Wisconsin alike.
“That in itself tells you there’s something wrong with him,” Wilson said. “That’s a scare tactic. He’s indicating that if we don’t do something about it, they’re going to be up here rioting or something. Wrong venue. True Trump. His whole speech sounded to me of trying to pit black against white.”
Recent national polls have indicated that just 1 percent of black voters support Trump. His open hostility toward various racial, ethnic and religious groups has driven people of color ― Democrats and Republican alike ― away from his campaign in droves, and into the arms of his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton.
On Tuesday, the businessman signaled that he has no intention of running a more inclusive general-election campaign. He said he can’t change who he is, to the dismay of worried Republicans in Congress. The following day, he doubled down by announcing he was bringing in Breitbart CEO Steven Bannon to help run his campaign ― suggesting that he plans to embrace nationalism and divisiveness until the very end.
Sherwin Hughes, host of the political talk show “The Forum” and a prominent African-American voice in Milwaukee, said it’s too late for Trump to find his way out of the demographic cul-de-sac he’s driven himself into.
“His rhetoric... is kindling the fears of folks who are feeling insecure,” Hughes said. “To capitalize on those who may have left the city, who left urban areas, who are ignorant of urban culture. That’s where he has to go. I don’t think him switching gears would take away, or [negate], the things he would say early on in the campaign cycle.”
Editor’s note: Donald Trump regularly incites political violence and is a serial liar, rampant xenophobe, racist, misogynist and birther who has repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims — 1.6 billion members of an entire religion — from entering the U.S.