op-ed

Yes, We Kanye? Trump And The GOP May Have A Real Opening With African Americans

Many black media commentators are outraged that hip hop music idol Kanye West has embraced Donald Trump in a public “bromance.”  And some are desperate to find some way to punish West for his “defection.” Why are they so upset?

Because West is “breaking the code.” He’s defying the mainstream narrative that consigns black Americans to the role of permanent victim. Trapped in poverty, after generations of slavery and segregation, black Americans must rely on Big Government – and Democrats — to boost their prospects for success, the argument goes. They can’t fend for themselves, let alone achieve real social mobility.

West’s own meteoric success speaks for itself. But he’s hardly alone. Many popular black entertainment figures — everyone from Denzel Washington to Russell Simmons to Beyoncé – who have made it to the top are registered Republicans, too. Robert Johnson, the billionaire CEO of Black Entertainment Tonight, is a close friend of the president’s. A number of black sports figures are also staunchly pro-Trump.

But as a rule, highly successful conservative African-Americans don’t wear their politics on their sleeve. Historically, any black that identifies with mainstream – read, “White” — America runs the risk of being called a “sell-out,” an “uncle Tom.”

West clearly doesn’t care. He’s doubling down on his comments every chance he gets. And slowly but surely, other top black entertainment and political figures are beginning to rush to his defense.

In fact, black success in America is hardly confined to celebrities. According to the liberal Brookings Institution, the growth of the black middle class is one of the great untold political stories of the last fifty years. Today, forty-two percent of African-Americans own their own homes, a figure that rises to 75 percent for black married couples.

Even more striking? Black two-parent families earn only 13 percent less than those who are white, according to Brookings.

Another indicator of black success is small business success. There’s been an especially sharp rise in the number of black franchise owners in recent years. In fact, close to 40% of America’s franchises are minority-owned; so are roughly 20 percent of all non-franchised business.

Why are these facts so underreported? In part, because the plight of the black underclass — those still trapped in poverty — still dominates the mainstream media narrative. It’s also because Democrats have inherited African-Americans as a major voting constituency and have a vested interest in hammering home black victimization and deprivation as political mobilizing tools.

These appeals also justify higher budgets for social welfare programs that promote Big Government and allow petty bureaucrats and local power brokers – most of them Democrats, of course – to dole out patronage to keep the black underclass dependent on their political largesse.

Right now, Democrats are counting on increased black voter turnout to defeat GOP candidates in 2018 and Trump in 2020. But that strategy assumes that increased black turnout means more support for Democratic Party candidates. What if it doesn’t?

Some pundits seem to be underestimating just how far divisions run among African Americans. While Barack Obama managed to monopolize the Black vote, much like Bill Clinton before him, Republicans have fared better among African-Americans in the past — and under Trump they are poised to do so again.

In my own interviews conducted in low-income black communities in Washington, D.C. prior to the 2016 election, many blacks said Trump’s argument that Barack Obama had “failed” black America resonated with them. They also said Trump was right that America was spending far too much time, money and attention on problems overseas, while US cities were crumbling.

“These politicians care more about rebuilding Iraq than Detroit,” was an all-too-common refrain.

Signs of black defection toward Trump were already apparent in the 2016 election. Some 15 percent of African-American males chose the former reality TV star, about twice the number that voted for Mitt Romney in 2012 and three times the number that voted for John McCain in 2008.

The latest polls suggest that Trump’s support among black Americans, especially men, is climbing. One factor is the sharply declining jobless rate among blacks since Trump took office. According to a Reuters tracking poll, and the administration’s own internal numbers, Trump’s support among black males may be as high as 22 percent. Some GOP insiders think that Trump might well make it to 30 percent — and perhaps beyond.

History has shown that even relatively small shifts of black support to the GOP can make the difference between success and failure. In 1968, Richard Nixon enlisted numerous black intellectual and entertainment figures — led by popular singer Sammy Davis, Jr., a forerunner to West — to rally black support for his candidacy.

It was a sophisticated campaign that included the establishment of a “black brain trust” to advise Nixon on race issues as well as a bold (but amorphous) pledge by the candidate to “clean up the slums,” if elected.

Nixon wasn’t trying to win the black vote outright. He simply wanted to peel enough African American voters away from Democrat Hubert Humphrey without driving large number of conservative Southern Whites into the camp of segregationist George Wallace.

And the strategy worked. The former vice-president not only ended up with 15 percent of the black vote — at the time, a modern GOP record — but his enhanced voting margin helped put him over the top in one of the closest presidential elections in US history.

GOP strategists should learn from this example. With a decided slight shift in black voter allegiances, states like Georgia that Democrats hope to turn Blue would likely stay Red. Traditional Blue states like Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania – each with large pockets of African-American voters — that swung GOP in 2016 for the first time in decades would remain highly competitive. And the quadrennial battleground of Ohio – which Trump carried by a whopping 9 points — could become a semi-permanent GOP bastion.

In other words, a real shift is possible in the American racial landscape that could give Republicans a governing majority for years to come. But Trump and the GOP need to seize the initiative.

Black small businesses still need greater support from private lending institutions. And there are areas of persistent discrimination – for example, gross disparities in criminal justice, an issue championed by the conservative Koch Brothers – that need urgent redress.

Republicans should not be afraid to take leadership on such issues. They are part of the nation’s unfinished social agenda. Private sector solutions should lead the way

There was a time when Republicans – under Abraham Lincoln – championed the full integration of blacks into the American mainstream. Today, in a different era, with so much progress already made, it could well happen again. Yes, we Kanye?

Stewart J. Lawrence is a consultant and policy analyst.


The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.