Trump Says His Indictments Are Helping Him Attract Black Voters

Former President Donald J. Trump, in a speech to a Black conservative group on Friday night, said he believed that the four criminal cases he is facing have earned him support from Black voters because they saw the historic unfairness of the justice system reflected in his legal woes.

“I think that’s why the Black people are so much on my side now,” Mr. Trump said at a gala hosted by the Black Conservative Federation in Columbia, S.C. “Because they see what’s happening to me happens to them. Does that make sense?”

At another point in his speech, he suggested that Black voters had warmed to him “because they have been hurt so badly and discriminated against, and they actually viewed me as, I’m being discriminated against. It’s been pretty amazing.”

Mr. Trump has long used “law and order” to rally his conservative base, as well as coded racist language to attack political opponents. His comments on Friday came in a speech filled with express overtures to Black voters, a group that has overwhelmingly voted Democratic for decades, but whose support he and his campaign are eager to win.

As the former president has shifted his focus from the Republican primary, where he is the dominant front-runner, to the general election, he has increasingly included mentions of Black voters in his speeches.

Typically, Mr. Trump claims that Black Americans fared better economically under his administration than under President Biden’s. He has also asserted that the influx of migrants at the southern border is disproportionately hurting Black workers, who face the threat of losing their jobs to immigrants willing to work for lower wages.

But Friday’s speech saw Mr. Trump tailor his remarks specifically to Black voters. In particular, he married one of the central grievances animating his campaign — that the 91 felony counts he faces are the work of politically motivated prosecutors and an unfair justice system — with a race-based appeal.

At one point, Mr. Trump brought up the mug shot that was taken of him last August when he was indicted in Georgia on charges tied to his efforts to overturn his 2020 election loss in that state.

The Trump campaign has used the photo in fund-raising efforts and has plastered it on apparel, as have a number of independent vendors from across the political spectrum. Mr. Trump noted that Black people had been wearing shirts with his booking photo.

“You know who embraced it more than anybody else?” Mr. Trump asked the crowd. “The Black population.”

Mr. Trump also spoke extensively about his signature criminal justice reform law, the First Step Act. He rarely mentioned that law — which, among other things, sought to reduce mandatory minimum sentences for some crimes — while campaigning to predominantly white crowds in Iowa and New Hampshire.

Mr. Trump has long been accused of racist remarks and behavior. The Justice Department sued him in 1977 for discriminating against potential Black tenants. He was criticized for fueling racial tension when he took out newspaper ads in New York in the 1980s urging the state to adopt the death penalty after the rape of a jogger in Central Park, a crime wrongly blamed on five Black and Latino teenagers.

And he first emerged as a conservative political figure when he stoked animus toward President Barack Obama by becoming a high-profile figurehead of the so-called birther movement, which falsely cast doubt on whether Mr. Obama was born in the United States.

Mr. Trump continues to emphasize Mr. Obama’s middle name, Hussein, when he refers to him on the campaign trail. And he has continued to question whether political opponents who are people of color are eligible to hold office, most recently Nikki Haley, his lone remaining rival for the Republican presidential nomination.

But Mr. Trump often heralds his improved standing among Black voters on the trail. He won just 8 percent of Black voters nationally in 2020 and 6 percent in 2016, but polls have shown him with increased support, particularly in crucial battleground states.

During Friday’s speech, as he was thanking supporters and friends in the crowd — a typical feature of Mr. Trump’s campaign speeches — he noted that he was having trouble spotting them.

“The lights are so bright in my eyes that I can’t see too many people out there,” Mr. Trump said to laughs from the audience. “But I can only see the Black ones. I can’t see any white ones, you see?”

“That’s how far I’ve come,” he added as the crowd cheered. “That’s how far I’ve come. That’s a long — that’s a long way, isn’t it?”

He also took aim at identity politics, even as he repeatedly tried to cater to Black voters.

While telling a story about negotiating the price of an overhaul for Air Force One, Mr. Trump criticized Mr. Obama for not doing enough to cut costs.

“Would you rather have the Black president or the white president who got $1.7 billion off the price?” Mr. Trump asked the crowd, which cheered in response.

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