WASHINGTON – Donald Trump’s “pivot,” desperately hoped for by sane Republicans, was over before it began. He couldn’t pretend to be inclusive and statesmanlike for two days in a row if his life depended on it.
Anyone who doubts this should only consider Trump’s idea of an appeal to African-American voters: “What do you have to lose by trying something new like Trump? What do you have to lose? You’re living in poverty. Your schools are no good, you have no jobs, 58 percent of your youth is unemployed. What the hell do you have to lose?”
That’s right, black Americans. The Republican candidate for president says you live Hobbesian lives of misery and despair, with no options, no prospects, no joy, no hope. Oh, and he wants your vote.
For the record, sigh, let me take a minute to unpack the stunning ignorance in that ostensible pitch for African-American votes, which Trump made Friday before a virtually all-white audience in Michigan. The black poverty rate is about 27 percent. That’s far too high – the poverty rate for whites is about 10 percent – but the fact is that most African-Americans lead comfortable middle-class lives.
The black unemployment rate is about 9 percent – again, too high but nothing like the impression Trump seeks to give. And his claim of 58 percent black youth joblessness is an out-and-out lie. The only way he can arrive at that figure is to include all young people between 16 and 24, including those who are attending high school. If you calculated white youth unemployment that same way, it would be nearly 50 percent. But it’s ridiculous to count as unemployed a bunch of kids who, you know, have to do their chemistry homework.
Does Trump have the faintest clue what black America is really like? From the evidence, no. But I can’t believe he actually thinks he has a chance of winning significant African-American support, given the way he has insulted President Barack Obama, dismissed the issue of police violence and acquiesced in support from the white-supremacist fringe. Trump has registered as low as 1 percent or 2 percent among black voters in national polls – and his remarks last week probably cost him support.
Instead, he must have been seeking to appeal to white voters who can’t bring themselves to vote for him because of the racist tone of his campaign. Message: I care about African-Americans, even if it’s pretty obvious that I don’t know very many.
Hey, at least it worked with Kellyanne Conway, Trump’s new campaign manager. “I’m white,” she said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.” “I was very moved by his comment.”
The desire to convince whites he is not a flaming bigot may also be why one of the pillars of Trump’s campaign – the promise to round up and deport 11 million undocumented immigrants – has suddenly gone wobbly.
If elected, Trump could never actually carry out such a massive campaign of ethnic cleansing. But antipathy toward Latinos who are “flooding” across the border, allegedly to take Americans’ jobs and commit horrible crimes, is a central tenet of Trumpism. I thought Trump would have to stick with this paranoid revenge fantasy throughout the campaign – until Conway said Sunday that the final policy on forced deportation is “to be determined.”
The previous day, in a meeting with a group of Hispanic advisers, Trump reportedly said he could consider a procedure in which at least some undocumented men and women could obtain legal status without first going back to their home countries. But Monday, Trump said that “I’m not flip-flopping” on immigration – yet declined to give any specifics on what his position now is.
Poor Conway had better get used to explaining what her candidate must have meant as opposed to what he actually said. She also should get accustomed to the fact that Trump will frequently make her into a liar. “He doesn’t hurl personal insults,” she said Sunday – but then Trump took to Twitter. Within hours, he had slung a personal insult at a regular guest on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” (not me). And Monday morning, he lobbed even nastier personal insults at the show’s co-hosts. Whatever, Donald.
Trump’s pivot turned out to be a 360-degree pirouette: Back into the mud, where he feels most at home.
I’ve said it before: Trump is not going to change. No matter how many times he reshuffles his campaign, he is who he is. It’s delusional to pretend otherwise.
Eugene Robinson’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.