President Donald Trump has wasted no time in celebrating the economy’s historic low in the black unemployment rate in his annual State of the Union address last month.
“The unemployment rate for African-Americans, Hispanic Americans and Asian-Americans has reached the lowest levels in history,” Trump said proudly before a nationwide audience. “African-American youth unemployment has reached an all-time-low. African-American poverty has declined to the lowest rate ever recorded.”
Black unemployment has indeed plummeted under the Trump administration due to a roaring economy. While the number has ticked back up to 6 percent, according to the latest government statistics, the rate of unemployment for African-Americans reached a record-low of 5.4 percent in August and hasn’t moved much higher. Trump’s remarks still met little appreciation from House Democrats in the audience, showcasing the polarized nature of our modern political climate.
When asked about the low unemployment rate for black Americans on Fox News last week, the No. 3 Democrat and highest-ranking African-American in the House Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina even condemned the administration’s success, scoffing that African-Americans were actually “fully employed” during slavery.
“I’m saying that the African-American unemployment is not the lowest its ever been unless you count slavery,” Clyburn said. “We were fully employed during slavery. So it all depends how you measure this up.”
Clyburn’s comments are emblematic of Republicans’ inability to garner high percentages of the black vote in the past several decades, despite being black Americans’ party of choice for decades before that because Republicans successfully ended slavery. Democrats, who now consider black Americans a vital part of their base, will condemn any progress made with black Americans under Republican leadership by exhaustingly seeking to stigmatize the GOP has racist.
A new political action committee launched this election cycle seeks to change that. The New Journey PAC, which began operations this year, seeks to bring black voters back into the Republican Party.
“The Republican identity has been successfully demonized by a relentless 50-year campaign to portray it as a party of ‘White supremacists,’ bigots, and compassionless agents of inequality,” the PAC website states. “That changes now. We are embarking on a journey.”
Earlier this month, the new committee launched its first attack ad against Democrats, charging the left-wing party of running “the hood” by propping up failing schools and favoring “hand outs instead of opportunities.”
“For 50 years, one party has been in charge of the ‘hood,” explains a narrator. “They’re against school choice for parents and even vouchers for our children… They side with crime bills and prison, instead of good education and jobs… Gangs don’t run the hood, Democrats do.”
Autry Pruitt, the group’s CEO, told The Federalist he aims to move 15 percent of the black vote from the blue to red this cycle, with a particular focus on Texas, Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Florida. To do that, Pruitt wants to open up “engagement centers” in each state to facilitate renewed GOP outreach to African-American communities.
The purpose of the centers, Pruitt said, is to provide a lost linkage to “conservative thinking, Republican politics, the right side of the aisle and what’s going on in the community.” Each would “service the community with information” and provide context to statements so often immediately written off as racist such as the president’s tweets.
Pruitt said each center would also act as a kind of safe haven for Republican candidates down the ballot, such as Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, to go and listen to African-Americans spill their grievances in a civil forum with the implicit agreement that the Republican guest is no racist in the eyes of the audience. Republicans “can’t get to the black vote if you’re scared of black people,” Pruitt argued, noting that Republicans have been absent from minority communities.
How many centers the group will open up is “wholly dependent on the donor base,” Pruitt said, but added that he wants the PAC to open up one in each of the targeted states this summer.
“Once the engagement centers are there, it’s going to engage,” said Pruitt. “It’s going to be there to answer tough questions.”
Building up black support has become a key element of the Trump re-election strategy, made clear earlier this month when the campaign aired an ad touting the president’s efforts on criminal justice reform the same week that Trump made black progress a major component of his State of the Union address.
The president has a steep hill to climb. In 2016, Trump won only 13 percent of black men and 4 percent of black women. While still better than Mitt Romney in 2012, who only won 11 percent of black men and 3 percent of black women, voter turnout among African-Americans was down by 7 percent from President Barack Obama’s re-election year, according to the Pew Research Center.
Despite the low levels of support, many remain optimistic about Trump’s chances to provoke the beginning of realignment. On Thursday, South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott predicted that Trump would capture 50 percent more black votes than he received four years ago.
Pruitt said Trump presented a unique opportunity to reclaim African-American support because the president has showcased his ability to listen on issues such as over incarceration. Trump is the “first Republican in a very long time where if there is something with injustice happening, he’s willing to listen,” Pruitt said.
Although a 6 percent rise that Scott predicted won’t be easy and doesn’t sound like much, it could certainly mark a significant shift in several key states for Trump and have a down-ballot effect on other Republican candidatess. Pruitt is still aiming for a 15 percent shift, though that might not happen this fall.
Pruitt emphasized that the new PAC’s goals are not short-term. The New Journey CEO said he is working to build a long-standing organization that will continue to build with each election cycle, and the engagement centers will operate year-round.
“This is not going to be won by one election cycle. It can’t be,” Pruitt said. “We’ve got a long way to go.”