Donald Trump has seized — and maintained — the political spotlight, in part by making coarse remarks about minority groups and capitalizing on nativist fears among his core supporters. He’s called Mexican immigrants rapists and murderers, repeated stereotypes about Jews and money, and, this week, in the wake of the San Bernardino massacre, Trump ignited a national firestorm by calling for Muslims to be banned from entering the country. The more he’s alienated American ethnic groups and scandalized the political establishment, the more, it seems, the brash billionaire has pumped up his base.
But in a strange twist, Trump, the unabashedly politically incorrect Republican frontrunner, recently made an effort to be more sensitive about one of the country’s key minority constituencies.
This shift came after Trump met with a group that included prominent African-American pastors at his eponymous skyscraper headquarters in Manhattan on Nov. 30. Three people who attended the meeting told Yahoo that Trump was told to change the way he speaks about African-Americans, a group he has regularly referred to as “the blacks.” Members of the group left Trump Tower with the impression he would choose his words more carefully going forward.
“To be honest, we informed him that he comes across as insensitive sometimes,” recounted Darrell Scott, an Ohio pastor who helped organize Trump’s meeting with the clergy. “He said, ‘OK.’ … He nodded his head. … We also told him that there are politically correct and politically incorrect terms that are being in use.”
Scott said Trump took the pastors’ words to heart. After the meeting, Trump flew down to Macon, Ga., for a rally where his speech reflected the new tone: “You know, we had a meeting today that was amazing,” Trump told his faithful. “We had the African-American pastors — so many came up to Trump Tower — it was like one of the most inspiring meetings.”
This rare concession from the infamously blunt billionaire and his powwow with the pastors are part of what his allies describe as an ambitious effort to win over the majority of black voters.
Like so many claims made through the course of Trump’s presidential campaign, his boasts about his ability to appeal to the African-American electorate seem grandiose and even a bit detached from reality. Yet in an election cycle where it’s been foolish to dismiss or underestimate Trump, Yahoo News is taking a closer look at his African-American outreach strategy and the unusual collection of allies helping him curry favor with that community. They include including a Jewish Democrat, a familiar face from the 2012 campaign who had a particular affinity for the number nine, and a Harlem minister who has focused on battling “homo demons” and exposing President Obama as a Kenyan-born “Muslim.”
People in Trump’s orbit stress that all final decisions come from the man himself. But Michael Cohen, a longtime member of Trump’s inner circle, is helping to lead the unusual outreach effort. Cohen, who is Trump’s lawyer and an executive vice president at the Trump Organization, is a rather unlikely fit for the role of campaign minority outreach consultant. Cohen has no official role on Trump’s campaign and isn’t being paid by it, which has led to questions about whether he’s legally permitted to do political work on behalf of his boss. He’s also a self-described registered Democrat with Long Island roots. Still, Cohen says he’s working to “coordinate” Trump’s work to woo the black community.
When asked how much of the African-American vote the campaign wants to win, Cohen had a perfectly Trumpian answer: All of it. “Our goal is 100 percent,” Cohen said before modifying himself. “Or to flip what has historically been the Democrats’ 93 percent. That’s Mr. Trump’s goal.”