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Trump visits a Black church during swing through Michigan

Few states may matter more in November than Michigan, which Biden carried by less than 3 percentage points four years ago.
Election 2024 Trump
Posted at 6:53 PM, Jun 15, 2024

Former President Donald Trump used back-to-back stops Saturday to court Black voters and a conservative group that has been accused of attracting white supremacists as the Republican presidential candidate works to stitch together a coalition of historically divergent interests in battleground Michigan.

Trump hosted an afternoon roundtable at an African American church in Detroit, then addressed the “People's Convention” of Turning Point Action, a group that the Anti-Defamation League says has been linked to a variety of extremists.

“What a turnout this is,” Trump told a standing-room-only crowd of thousands of conservative activists packed into a massive convention hall. “With the help of everyone here today we're going to win the state of Michigan in November.”

Roughly 24 hours before the former president spoke, well-known white supremacist Nick Fuentes entered the hall surrounded by a group of cheering supporters. Security quickly escorted him out, but Fuentes created political problems for Trump after attending a private lunch with the former president and the rapper formerly known as Kanye West at Trump’s Florida estate in 2022.

The crowd was far smaller but also warmly receptive earlier, when Trump visited 180 Church, a modest brick building with “Black Americans for Trump” signs affixed. Derelict vehicles sat nearby, while rap music and barbecue smoke wafted from a pre-event gathering organized by the Black Conservative Federation group.

“It’s a very important area for us,” Trump told the church crowd. He also promised to return “some Sunday” for a sermon.

Trump's weekend schedule underscores the evolving political forces shaping the presidential election this fall as he tries to deny Democratic President Joe Biden a second term.

“He's been the worst president for Black people,” Trump said at the church. He also argued that the Black community “is being hurt” by people in the country illegally, adding, "They're invading your jobs."

Few states may matter more in November than Michigan, which Biden carried by less than 3 percentage points four years ago. And few voting groups matter more to Democrats than African Americans, who made up the backbone of Biden's political base in 2020. But now, less than five months before Election Day, Black voters are expressing modest signs of disappointment with the 81-year-old Democrat.

Michael Whatley, the new chairman of the Republican National Committee, told Michigan Republicans at a dinner Friday that the state could not be more important.

"Let me be more blunt: If we don’t win Michigan, we’re not going to have Donald Trump in the White House," Whatley said, adding, "We are going to determine the fate of the world in this election."

Trump argues he can pull in more Black voters due to his economic and border security message, and that his felony indictments make him more relatable. At the church on Saturday afternoon, he repeatedly vowed to “bring back the auto industry" while also noting, “The crime is most rampant right here and African American communities.”

Kimberly Taylor, who was invited on stage at the church by the Trump campaign, thanked Trump for “coming to the hood,” while pastor Lorenzo Sewell said Biden attended an NAACP dinner in the city “but never came to the hood.”

The pastor asked Trump how to “keep the Black dollar in the Black community” and the former president said that the Black community “needs to stop the crime.”

Democrats are offering a competing perspective.

“Donald Trump is so dangerous for Michigan and dangerous for America and dangerous for Black people,” said Michigan Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist II, who is African American. He called it “offensive” for Trump to address the Turning Point conference, which was taking place at the same convention center that was “the epicenter of their steal the election effort.”

Indeed, dozens of angry Trump loyalists chanting “Stop the count!” descended on the TCF Center, now named Huntington Place, the day after the 2020 presidential election as absentee ballots were being counted. Local media captured scenes of protesters outside and in the lobby. Police prevented them from entering the counting area.

The protests occurred after Trump had tweeted that “they are finding Biden votes all over” in several states, including Michigan.

The false notion that Biden benefited from widespread voter fraud has been widely debunked by voting officials in both parties, the court system and members of Trump's former administration. Still, Trump continues to promote such misinformation, which echoed throughout the conservative convention over the weekend.

Speaking from the main stage, Turning Point founder and CEO Charlie Kirk falsely described the conference location as “the scene of a crime.” Trump also used his speech to personally salute Kirk.

Such extreme rhetoric does not appear to have hurt Trump's standing with Black voters.

Among Black adults, Biden’s approval has dropped from 94% when he started his term in January 2021 to just 55%, according to an Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll published in March.

About 8 in 10 Black voters have an unfavorable opinion of Trump, with roughly two-thirds saying they have a “very unfavorable” view of him, according to an AP-NORC poll conducted in June.

Trump won 8% of the Black vote in 2020, according to AP VoteCast. And in what is expected to be a close election, even a modest shift could be consequential.

Omar Mitchell, a Detroit restaurant owner who participated in the church roundtable, said he supports Trump because “money was pumping” when he was president.

“In the old days, how we grew up was just because you’re Black means you’re a Democrat,” Mitchell said. “That’s out the door nowadays.”

Elsewhere, thousands of conservative activists, most of them young and white, were eagerly awaiting Trump’s keynote address Saturday night.

Turning Point has emerged as a force in GOP politics in the Trump era, particularly among his “Make America Great Again” movement, despite the ADL's warning that the group “continues to attract racists.”

“Numerous individuals associated with the group have made bigoted statements about the Black community, the LGBTQ community and other groups,” the ADL, an international anti-hate group, wrote in a background memo. “While TPUSA (Turning Point USA) leaders say they reject white supremacist ideology, known white nationalists have attended their events.”

Turning Point spokesperson Andrew Kolvet dismissed the ADL's characterization as “smears and lies.” He added that Turning Point has been blocking Fuentes from attending its events for “years.”

"The ADL is a scourge on America, which sows poison and division. They’ve completely lost the plot," Kolvet said, describing the ADL's criticism as “a badge of honor.”

Turning Point, long popular among Trump's MAGA fringe, is now a central player in mainstream Republican politics. The group's weekend speaking program featured a long list of established Republican politicians and former Trump counselor Steve Bannon, who is set to report to prison by July 1 to begin serving a four-month sentence for defying a U.S. House subpoena.

In his remarks Friday night, Vivek Ramaswamy, who has emerged as a fierce Trump ally since unsuccessfully challenging Trump for the GOP presidential nomination, called on conservatives to reject what he said was the Democrats' embrace of diversity.

“I am sick and tired of celebrating our diversity,” Ramaswamy charged. “It means nothing unless there is something greater that unites us.”

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