Donald Trump sure doesn’t make it easy to be a black Republican these days.
Despite the president’s decision to blame both sides for this weekend’s deadly clash at a rally organized by white supremacists, many African-American members of the GOP say they still support him.
In more than a dozen interviews, black Republicans across the nation blamed Trump’s much maligned response to the Charlottesville, Va. events on his inexperience as a politician. They recall that even Democrat Barack Obama, the nation’s first black president, didn’t utter the perfect statement after every tragedy.
“President Trump suffers from a style that many Americans are turned off by,” said Ward Connerly, who has led campaigns against affirmative action for years. “People should give him a chance.”
And they accuse Americans of holding Trump to a different standard than others.
“They’re not going to be satisfied no matter what he says,” said Brian Bledsoe,who served as a Texas delegate at the 2016 GOP convention. “For them, their narrative is he is this racist or has these white supremacists in his administration. To them, he has to prove this, that he’s not this racist. He has to go far and beyond…but they’ll never be satisfied with what he says.”
There is blame on both sides. You look at both sides. I think there is blame on both sides
President Donald Trump
Many of those who still support Trump voted for him last year because of his plans to create jobs, reduce regulations and find much-needed money for crumbling roads and bridges. These black Republicans urge Americans to judge the president on what he does, not on his blunt talk or his abrasive personality.
Jill Upson, the first black Republican woman elected to the West Virginia House of Delegates, recalls a voter slamming the door in her face last year while she was campaigning after she said she was backing Trump. “He was sent there to be different,” she said.
Trump vowed during the 2016 presidential campaign that “I will do more for the African-American people in one year than Barack Obama has done in his seven years, soon to be eight years” and boldly predicted that he would win 95 percent of the black vote. In the end, he captured only 8 percent of the black vote.
“He has a tough job to do,” said former State Rep. Mike Hill of Florida. Hill said Trump had done an “outstanding job” standing up to North Korea and reviving the Keystone XL Pipeline. “I don’t expect everyone I come across, including the president, to be gracious all the time.”
The sentiment is not unanimous. Raynard Jackson, a black Republican political consultant and pundit, who said he supports the president on many policies, can’t understand why fellow black Republicans continue to stand up for Trump.
“To see black folks who claim to be Republicans or claim to be friends of the president try to make sense out of this stuff and expect the American people to believe them is offensive as hell,” he said. “And this is why people ignore black Republicans because they never, ever come out and take a principled stand when a Republican does something wrong.”
Only seven percent of black Americans identify with the GOP, and African-American Republicans already face questions about how they can be in a party that critics say opposes diversity and cuts programs for the neediest. Trump’s recent remarks have prompted more questions for African-Americans who stick with the party — and stick with Trump.
“The president’s response makes it more difficult for a guy like me to go home to the inner city and tell my friends and family that Republicans understand where they’re coming from,” said Micah Grant, a school board member from Sacramento, California who voted third party in the presidential election. “We fought wars to get rid of this hatred, this white supremacist movement. We took a stance on that, right? To meander, it’s just troubling.”
Grant said even before Tuesday’s remarks, he was being asked to explain Trump’s comments merely because he is Republican in a Democratic area. “It does make it difficult,” he said.
“It’s tough enough to be a black Republican. He now makes it impossible,” said Tara Wall, who worked for President George W. Bush, the Republican National Committee, and 2012 Republican nominee Mitt Romney, and had some blunt words for what Trump has done. “It undermines everything Republicans and black Republicans are trying to do to further his initiatives.”
Trump drew scorn across the nation for not calling out the torch-wielding white supremacists, neo-Nazis and Ku Klux Klan who marched through Charlottesville Saturday. He bowed to the intense criticism two days later when he read from a statement about the evils of racism. But by Tuesday, an unapologetic Trump was back to blaming both sides during an impromptu exchange with the media.
He immediately drew derision from Democrats and Republicans alike, many who didn’t back him during the election, including some black Republicans, such as Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina. Others — arguably the ones who should have been the most offended — called his comments acceptable, even accurate.
It’s hard for me to reconcile how some individuals will say he’s too in your face, too prone to give his views, then in the next breath say he’s a coward by not denouncing racism and the neo-Nazis. We can’t have it both ways. People should give him a chance
Ward Connerly, who has led campaigns against affirmative action for years
“I see it as, both sides were equally wrong,” Glenn McCall, a member of Republican National Committee from South Carolina. “He's saying it was wrong what white supremacists did, and equally wrong, the alt-left, in their conduct, in helping raise the tensions. So both sides were wrong. There’s enough blame to go around.”
Texas State Rep. James Earl White, who voted for Trump in the primary and later served on his statewide leadership team, still supports the president, though he acknowledged that his initial statement on Charlottesville missed the mark on providing “moral clarity.” He said Trump, a longtime businessman turned reality TV star, has behaved exactly as as someone who has not served in office before.
“This is a situation where he’s a businessman, an outsider, coming into a political environment,” White said. “I can understand his hesitancy for not wanting to put gasoline on the fire by condemning a certain group on one side before you kind of weigh in all the facts....You want to make sure you’re right, that you’re appropriate.”
Kansas State Rep. Willie Dove said he didn’t like what he heard from Trump on Charlottesville but it won’t affect his support for the president because it’s just one issue.
“One issue here or there is not going to break any responsible individual,” he said. “Do I agree with everything he does? Probably not. But that’s the president. There’s going to be some give and take.”
Katie Glueck contributed to this report.