IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Trump Campaign Struggles to Pull Off Minority Outreach Events

The list of derailed efforts to appeal to the communities that most strongly disapprove of the Republican nominee is growing by the day.
Image: Donald Trump
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump leaves after giving a news conference at Trump National Doral, July 27, in Doral, Fla.Evan Vucci / AP

As his approval ratings with minority voters continue to plummet, Donald Trump's campaign rescheduled yet another minority outreach event this week.

The Republican nominee was set to attend a Hispanic roundtable in Miami on Tuesday, but two days after scheduling it, the campaign said the intended attendees weren’t in town after all and that the roundtable would be delayed again. The event, first delayed after the police shootings in Dallas on July 7, had been initially scheduled for July 9. A new date has yet to be announced.

It’s the latest in a growing list of derailed efforts to appeal to the communities that most strongly disapprove of the Republican nominee.

An overwhelming 94 percent of black voters disapprove of Donald Trump — up 13 percent from May — according to a Washington Post/ABC News poll, while 89 percent of Latinos feel the same, up 5 percent from May. The numbers are worse in Ohio, where an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found that Trump had zero percent of African-American voter support in the swing state.

Related: Dueling Conventions Show Contrast of Race and Diversity

Trump’s racially-charged rhetoric has alienated minorities since day one of his campaign — and perhaps even long before that, given that his political rise coincided with his insistence that President Barack Obama, America’s first black president, is not a citizen. During his speech announcing his presidential bid, Trump famously claimed the Mexican government was “sending” criminals. Since then, Trump has said that the federal judge of Hispanic descent presiding over a lawsuit pertaining to fraud allegations against Trump University could not be impartial due to the Republican nominee’s plans to build a wall along the country’s southern border. Trump routinely retweets white supremacists and has spread false crime statistics that hugely exaggerate black-on-white crime statistics. He has been dogged by questions surrounding his persistently limp disavowal of prominent white nationalist David Duke, who recently announced a bid for the Senate by saying he was “overjoyed” to see Trump embrace his issues.

Trump, however, has dismissed the notion that he is unpopular with minority voters.

“We're going to have great relationships with the Hispanics,” he said after winning Indiana in May. “The Hispanics have been so incredible to me. They want jobs. Everybody wants jobs. The African Americans want jobs. If you look at what's going on, they want jobs.”

Yet public events to cultivate these relationships are seemingly sloppily scheduled at best and low priority at worst.

Last week, during the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, two of the candidate’s children, Tiffany Trump and Eric Trump, skipped a confirmed appearance at the cocktail event for Black Republicans while security officials waited for hours to escort them inside. Later, both were seen at the convention where their brother, Donald Trump, Jr., announced New York’s delegate count, putting the candidate over the majority number of delegates Trump needed to officially secure the nomination.

Cleveland City Councilman Zack Reed, a black Democrat running for mayor who said at the event he wasn’t a Trump fan but attended in the name of bipartisanship, said he wasn’t surprised the Trump children skipped it.

“I started at zero, this made me go negative,” he told NBC News a week later. “This just goes to enforce and embed in my mind how serious they’re not."

Related: Full List of Trump's Rapidly Changing Policy Positions

Meanwhile, in Cincinnati, 250 miles south of the Republican National Convention’s host city of Cleveland, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) hosted their annual convention from July 16-20.

Though it has historically drawn presidential candidates from both sides of the aisle during election years — at the very least during candidates' first presidential run — the NAACP said the Trump campaign ignored their invitations to speak at the convention for months before finally declining July 11th, citing the RNC, which took place July 18-21, as the reason.

Trump’s newly-hired director of African-American outreach, Omarosa Manigault, denied ignoring the invitation when speaking with reporters before the cocktail event for Black Republicans, insisting they communicated repeatedly about it. An NAACP spokesman, however, refutes Manigault’s account, and forwarded a brief correspondence with the Trump campaign to NBC News that they said was the extent of their contact. (Manigualt did not respond to interview requests for follow up.)

Related: Could Voting Restrictions Be Trump's Ace in the Hole

This spring, Trump’s ‘diversity coalition’ gathered at Trump Tower for their first hastily planned meeting, only to realize that it was unclear how or when they’d meet with the candidate they’d come from around the country to meet. In the end, the group of 60 spent just two minutes with Trump while he spoke to the press. Later, the campaign said he met with “several” coalition members privately but would not confirm who or for how long. The event left coalition members grumbling over how extensive security checks had taken more time than the meeting itself, NBC News reported at the time.

These faltering efforts come during an election in which the GOP had vowed, in the wake of the party’s 2012 defeat, to be more inclusive, soften inflammatory rhetoric and appeal to minorities and women more aggressively. The report famously encouraged Republicans to push for immigration reform, and avoid being perceived as anti-immigrant.

"By the year 2050 we'll be a majority-minority country and in both 2008 and 2012 President Obama won a combined 80 percent of the votes of all minority groups," Republican National Committee chair Reince Priebus said when he debuted the report in 2012."The RNC cannot and will not write off any demographic or community or region of this country."

Trump allies insist the polls that show little support among minorities are all wrong due to media bias and that their outreach efforts are strong — it’s just not very visible to the press. Bruce Levell*, head of Trump’s diversity coalition, said that Trump’s outreach to minority voters has largely been kept private.

“Let’s just be real, no candidate has ever punched media in the eye,” Levell said. “Do we get a lot of press ops of taking photos with these community leaders? No, we just do what we do and move on. He’s not going to advertise it … it’s too distracting that way.”

However, Trump has made a career of boasting about his private life in the press, and his relationships with minorities are no different. He's vowed to win the black vote in the general election, and claimed in 2011 that he has a "great relationship with the blacks."

Levell, a black pastor, said there was no way Trump could have won the primary without minority support and that he has minority “ambassadors for every battleground state, having their ears to the ground" who affirm that view.

“I just don’t see it,” he told NBC News of Trump's lack of minority support as evidenced by the polls.

He pointed to the Republican National Convention, which gave a handful of speaking slots to pro-Trump minority organizers like Dr. Lisa Shin and Pastor Mark Burns, who took the stage on the final night before Trump spoke. Still, an NBC News analysis of Trump’s full speaker list found that 80 percent of Trump’s RNC speakers were white.

Levell, who is not a paid staffer but rather a volunteer, said the campaign has done so many minority outreach events that they blurred together. When pressed for specifics on the events he was referring to, Levell pointed to two meetings that Trump has held with Christian leaders. One was a meeting with hundreds of evangelicals this summer and the second was with a group of black pastors last year.

A press release about the latter event, held in November at Trump Tower, promised the endorsement of more than 100 black pastors purported to be in attendance. However, several of the pastors on that list told reporters they had no plans to endorse Trump, while others said they weren't even attending. Some said they demanded apologies from Trump for his inflammatory rhetoric during the two-and-a-half hour meeting, too, though Trump later described the event as a room full of "love" in impromptu remarks to the press. He canceled the planned public portion of the event with the pastors.

Two other events last year have met similar fates: A public question and answer session with the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce was prominently scheduled for October 8, but was canceled six days out when the group reportedly refused to “change the format of the forum, show any favoritism, exclude any issues or topics, or grant any immunity from objective scrutiny.”

A month earlier, Trump added a stop at a black business conference in Charleston, South Carolina. Just a few dozen conference attendees actually attended the campaign event supposedly thrown in their honor. Instead, the candidate spoke to a half-empty room of white people.

Additional reporting by Katy Tur and Ali Vitali.

*CORRECTION: A previous version of this article misspelled the name of Bruce Levell. It is Levell, not Leavell.