2016 elections, African Americans, Bruce Bartlett, Charles M. Blow, Donald Trump, Eugene Robinson, Hispanics, Im-Politic, Immigration, Jamelle Bouie, Jobs, Latinos, media, Republicans, Slate.com, The New York Times, The Washington Post, wages
Bruce Bartlett’s Sunday Washington Post column on Donald Trump’s potential to win the presidency absent Latino support by wooing black voters could be one of the most insightful political analyses generated by Campaign 2016 so far. In fact, its only major weakness is its neglect of the role African American leaders might play in this drama; so far, they seem uniformly hostile to the Republican front-runner, including on the immigration issue rightly identified by Bartlett as Trump’s best chance for attracting black support.
Bartlett’s case for a significant black voter shift to Trump rests on three strong pillars: the clear tendency of immigrants especially on the lower ends of the income ladder to take job opportunities from African Americans; blacks’ resulting stout historic opposition to looser American immigration policies; and the persistence of this opposition down to the present. His stool, though, could have been four-legged had he cited one more important development: the explicit pitch for the black vote made by Trump in his immigration plan.
In the process of arguing that Open Borders-style immigration policies have helped “destroy” the American middle class, Trump’s blueprint notes that “nearly 40% of black teenagers are unemployed” (along with nearly 30 percent of their Hispanic counterparts). It adds, “For black Americans without high school diplomas, the bottom has fallen out: more than 70% were employed in 1960, compared to less than 40% in 2000.” It also blames “the influx of foreign workers” for holding down paychecks and preventing many “poor and working class Americans – including immigrants themselves and their children – [from earning] a middle class wage.”
As a result, Trump concludes, “We need to control the admission of new low-earning workers in order to: help wages grow, get teenagers back to work, aid minorities’ rise into the middle class….” And although Trump is often criticized for eschewing specifics, his immigration plan offers concrete proposals directly targeting African Americans: Replacing a via program for foreign youth with “a resume bank for inner city youth provided to all corporate subscribers to the J-1 visa program” and using savings from cutting back on overly generous refugee programs to create a version for American children that would help place those without parents “in safer homes and communities, and to improve community safety in high crime neighborhoods in the United States.”
As Bartlett observes, however, none of Trump’s platform has shown any signs of interesting black voters. The author correctly notes that most African Americans decades ago fell out of the habit of voting for any Republican – and that the GOP deserves at least much of the blame. But the nation’s black media voices have ignored and often rejected Trump’s immigration pitch, too – along with the rest of his candidacy – and this stance may be influencing the broader community as well.
New York Times columnist Charles M. Blow, for example, is so fed up with the national media’s role in creating “this Frankenstein of hatred, hubris, narcissism and nativism” that he’s vowed to restrict his Trump coverage to instances where the candidate “addresses issues with specific policy prescriptions and details….” But I can’t find any columns in which he even mentions the above aspects of Trump’s immigration proposals.
The Washington Post‘s Eugene Robinson blames Trump for leading the Republicans to “dig themselves a hole over immigration,” and has waxed indignant about his “rhetoric blaming undocumented Mexicans for a crime wave and insisting — without a shred of evidence — that the Mexican government is deliberately sending miscreants across the border….” But he hasn’t had anything to say about Trump’s proposals and African Americans’ economic prospects, either.
I looked over the websites of some of the nation’s leading African American newspapers, and it looks like they, too, are overlooking Trump’s immigration plan and its possible impact on their core readership. The most detailed treatment of Trump’s immigration policies of any kind I found focused instead on how his “platform…seems to be to throw gasoline on the fire of issues that stir the growing band of right-wingers, afraid of the increased darkening of America, into an anti-immigrant rage.” Other commentary has (accurately) and explicitly observed that white supremacist voices seem quite taken with Trump’s positions and candidacy.
One exception to this trend so far is Slate.com’s Jamelle Bouie, and he seems deeply conflicted. In an August 18 column, he actually did write about Trump’s specific immigration plan. But though Bouie took great pains to denounce it as “astonishingly cruel” and a formula for bringing “tremendous suffering to millions of Americans—native-born, naturalized, or otherwise,” he never mentioned Trump’s claims that African Americans and other native-born and legally resident minorities would benefit economically.
Yet ten days later, on CNN, Bouie was calling Trump’s contention that better immigration and trade policies would create more American jobs “absolutely fascinating,” and continued, “I don’t think I’ve heard a Republican ever talk specifically about African-American youth unemployment, which is a legitimate problem and a legitimate issue….”
In fact, Bouie recognized that Trump’s efforts to appeal to African Americans could help create a viable Republican victory strategy in 2016: “[P]art of doing that, part of approaching that, might just be harnessing anxiety about immigration, about the fact that immigrants are typically filling low wage jobs, and are in some cases… competing with African-American workers. Trump, I think, might be banking on that fact. And it’s not a bad play as far as strategy goes.”
No one should doubt that Trump and his party have a long way to go before lighting a fire among enough black voters to tip the 2016 balance. In fact, both have a long way to go before even pursuing this strategy consistently and systematically. But Bartlett is right that he’s put this possibility on the table. And even if the gambit is tried and fails during this presidential cycle, it should make you wonder – what if, further down the road, more stylistically conventional and rhetorically disciplined Republicans and conservatives take the hint?