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‘That mug shot is No. 1’: Trump courts Black voters in S.C. with attacks on legal system

In World
February 24, 2024

COLUMBIA, South Carolina — On the eve of the South Carolina primary, Donald Trump touted his record with Black voters and vowed to “fight for the Black community like you’ve never had anyone fight for you before.”

“This is Joe Biden’s worst nightmare, a room of hundreds of proud Black Republicans,” Trump said during a winding speech to a ballroom of conservative Black leaders at the Black Conservative Federation’s annual Honors Gala on Friday night.

The former president also tried to compare his own legal challenges to discrimination the African American community has historically faced in America. He further claimed his own indictments have helped him win support among the Black community.

“A lot of people said that that’s why the Black people like me because they have been hurt so badly and discriminated against, and they actually viewed me as I’m discriminated against,” Trump claimed.

He said that his mugshot photo from his booking in the Fulton County jail only helped him with Black voters. “When I did the mug shot in Atlanta, that mug shot is No. 1,” Trump claimed. “You know who embraced it more than anyone else? The Black population.”

The audience appeared to relish Trump’s speech, and he received some of his strongest applause for such lines, which echoed recent public statements in which he compared himself to recently deceased Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

Trump frequently veered off script, such as when he stared out into the audience and joked, “The lights are so bright in my eyes and I can’t see too many people out there. But I can only see the Black ones, I can’t see any white ones. That’s how far I’ve come.”

He riffed on the baseball home-run records of Babe Ruth and Barry Bonds and asked who gets to be the record holder. “I’m with Barry, especially tonight, I’m with Barry,” he said to laughter.

Trump’s appearance came as his campaign and the Republican Party have tried to make inroads with African American voters as President Joe Biden has seen his support among Black voters slip in the polls. According to an AP-NORC poll from December, only 50% of Black adults said they approve of Biden, which is down from 86% in July 2021.

But Trump’s support with Black voters languishes around 25%, according to the same poll. In a statement released Friday, the Biden campaign criticized Trump’s attempts to woo Black voters in South Carolina, calling him “the proud poster boy for modern racism.”

In his speech the former president emphasized his economic policies and received a standing ovation after he talked about concerns about public safety, migrants coming to cities like Chicago, and his promise to crack down on migration at the border.

He reminisced about the 2016 campaign trail with his former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Dr. Ben Carson sitting behind him on stage along with Rep. Wesley Hunt (R-Texas), and Rep. Byron Donalds, (R-Fla.) who introduced him.

Before Trump walked on stage, Donalds encouraged the audience to look past some of Trump’s often eyebrow-raising rhetoric.

“Real leadership sometimes isn’t cuddly, but it gets the job done,” Donalds said.

Braxton May, from Raleigh, N.C., who is affiliated with the Black Conservative Federation, said she came to support Trump and called the evening a “wonderful opportunity to bring us all together tonight and to see the progress that he’s done.”

Earlier in the day, Trump held a get out the vote rally in Rock Hill, where he unleashed a series of attacks on his Republican rival Nikki Haley and called on her to “switch parties.”

“Republicans aren’t supporting her, they don’t like her, and they don’t like her policy. She’s essentially a Democrat,” Trump said.

The two stops in South Carolina mark the end of primary campaigning here for Trump. The former president made Columbia part of his campaign’s first swing in early 2023. At the time, Trump was the lone Republican in the race.

At an event in the statehouse he announced the early backing of prominent state Republicans including Gov. Henry McMaster and Sen. Lindsay Graham. In the weeks that followed, two of South Carolina’s rising Republican stars, Sen. Tim Scott and the former governor Nikki Haley, jumped in the race along with a slate of other top Republicans. A year later, it has come down to Trump and Haley, who has vowed to press forward even though the former president leads by double digits in the polling in her home state.

Meanwhile Scott has become one of Trump’s top surrogates and is on the shortlist for vice president. At his back-to-back events in South Carolina, Trump heaped praise on the senator for his support.

“He’s a much better representative for me than he is for himself, and that’s a great compliment because he’s a high quality person and doesn’t like talking about himself,” Trump said in Rock Hill.

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