Just behind the church where Donald Trump will court black voters Saturday, Ron Hereford has been polling customers at his popular go-kart track.
“No black folks have anything positive to say pertaining to Trump,” the 62-year-old Hereford said while taking a break from issuing tickets – $3 for five laps – to a steady stream of children and their parents. “I don’t know why he’d be wasting his time.”
Trump, criticized for speaking chiefly to white crowds and drawing zero percent of African-American voters in some polls, will attend a church service in what his campaign says is an effort to “outline policies that will impact minorities and the disenfranchised in our country.”
It comes a day after Trump met in Philadelphia with African-American business, civic and religious leaders.
There, Daphne Goggins, a ward leader in the Philadelphia Republican Party, thanked Trump for coming and wept as she said: “For the first time in my life I feel like my vote is going to count.”
In Detroit, Trump will address the church service, then do a radio interview that will air on a black Christian network. The visit comes as recent polling shows him narrowing the gap with Hillary Clinton, but as strategists worry about his limited appeal to nonwhite voters.
Without a larger share of the nonwhite vote, Trump would have to win white voters by a margin that’s not been achieved since Ronald Reagan’s 1984 victory over Walter Mondale, when he won the white vote by 66-34 percent.
Interviews with more than a dozen black Detroiters suggest it’s too late for Trump to make inroads, even if they are not necessarily enthusiastic about Clinton. They were appalled by Trump’s call for a wall at the border, offended by his proposed temporary ban on Muslim immigration and insulted by his claim that they’re mired in poverty and violence.
“What does Donald J. Trump know about our lives?” asked Hereford, who retired last year after 37 years as an ironworker and now spends his time at his go-kart track
Trump should have stuck with his reality TV show, said Yolanda King, 49, a health care provider watching her nephew spin around the track for his birthday. She watched every season of Trump’s show and considered herself a fan.
“I feel like it’s a joke for him,” she said of his campaign. “He’s enjoying himself, but it’s at the expense of other people. He’s so mean.”
Like many African-Americans interviewed here, King said she was offended by Trump’s castigating of Mexicans as criminals and believes he seeks to pit ethnicities against one another.
“He wants to separate us all, and that’s not American,” she said. “What’s next? Call us monkeys and send us back to Africa?”
He wants to separate us all, and that’s not American. What’s next? Call us monkeys and send us back to Africa?
Bishop Wayne T. Jackson, the pastor with Great Faith Ministries International who will interview Trump on Saturday, said he had a responsibility as a religious broadcaster to let his audience hear from Trump. He said his Impact Network reached 50 million homes..
“Anybody, first of all, should be able to come to church,” Jackson said. “If Jesus was the pastor would he say, ‘No, Donald Trump can’t come?’ ”
Not everyone is so open-minded. Jackson has been vilified as a “sellout” for giving Trump the opportunity to speak, though he says the visit is not an endorsement. At least one Detroit minister plans a protest outside.
If Jesus was the pastor would he say, ‘No, Donald Trump can’t come?’
Bishop Wayne T. Jackson
Jackson, a Democrat who points to pictures in his office of President Barack Obama and of himself with Al Gore, Bill Clinton and Rep. John Conyers of Michigan, says he’s extended the same invite to Hillary Clinton.
The pastor insisted there is more support for Trump among African-Americans than polls suggest. He said he’d talked to a number of pastors who were poised to vote for Trump but wouldn’t say so publicly because they feared a backlash.
“Even with the high negatives he has, people are saying, ‘Listen, I’ve tried this before, I’m going to try something different.”
That’s been Trump’s pitch to African-American voters, asking them to try “something new like Trump.” He’s argued that Clinton is a “bigot who sees people of color only as votes” and that decades of African-American fealty to Democrats has led to disaster in the black community.
“You live in your poverty. Your schools are no good. You have no jobs,” he said of black voters, speaking in August in an overwhelmingly white city 90 miles from Detroit. “What the hell do you have to lose?”
That got a laugh out of Eric Brown, 35, a manager at Juno’s, a clothing store that is one of the few businesses still open among blocks of shuttered buildings near the church where Trump will speak.
“Barack Obama and the Democrats have tried to improve lives and the Republicans block them,” Brown said. “Donald Trump has no idea what he’s talking about.”
Trump’s visit, though, is likely to highlight the poverty and destruction that have plagued Detroit even before the city descended into bankruptcy in 2013. Its downtown is experiencing a renaissance, but large swaths of the city remain a patchwork of vacant, burned-out buildings.
Trump is also expected to tour several impoverished black neighborhoods with his former Republican presidential primary rival, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, who grew up in Detroit.
Just a block from one of Carson’s childhood homes on Detroit’s west side, flowers, stuffed animals and candles stood vigil Friday outside a Detroit Coney Island restaurant, mourning the popular owner who’d been shot to death as he opened for business Thursday.
Two blocks away, Gary Wright, 77, scoffed at Trump’s outreach, arguing that the candidate’s audience isn’t African-Americans but worried white voters.
“This isn’t meant for us. It’s meant for the white female voters who think he’s racist and don’t want to vote for a racist,” Wright said, stopping in for a biweekly trim at Washington’s Barber Shop. “He’s ain’t talking to us. If he wanted to talk us, he’s had plenty of opportunities in the last 15 months. Why do you wait until two months out?”
Wright noted that Trump had turned down an NAACP invitation to speak at its annual conference in July and an invitation to address last month’s joint convention of the National Association of Black Journalists and the National Association of Hispanic Journalists.
As for Trump’s question of what black voters have to lose, Wright has an answer: “My dignity. That’s what I have to lose.”
His barber, Charles Moore, 40, who moonlights as a soul singer, said that only of one of his clients was voting for Trump, chiefly because he didn’t want a woman for president.
“There’s a fool in every crowd,” Moore said. “Neither he or Hillary are very much, but Trump’s the worst.”