By Amrit Singh
Rewind your mind a few months, back to that very unpredictable GOP primary season. The one that started with a historically rich field of Republican presidential nominees and then ended with that field of 16 dramatically being overturned by one Donald Trump and his media-savvy mix of zingers, bravado, and—significantly—hard-lined proposals on immigration and minority issues that felt steps beyond his competitors.
Think of it this way: Marco Rubio had once supported a path to citizenship for a class of undocumented immigrants who were here and contributing to society in quantifiable ways, which Trump called weak sauce. Instead, Trump honed applause lines out of suggesting all 11- to 12-million undocumented immigrants must be deported ASAP, on top of a ban on Muslims entering the country and a wall with Mexico.
And all this came from a man who once questioned whether this nation's first black president was even an American citizen in the first place. In combination, all of these positions didn't exactly scream "champion of minorities' rights," but they did work in his favor with the bread and butter of his electoral base—white males—who rewarded Trump's direct messaging with zealous rallies and an historic voter turnout (13.3 million votes!). The end of this primary story: Donald Trump is your 2016 GOP Presidential candidate. And now he's starting to alter the pillars that hoisted him to the top.
So: What's Trump Doing?
But now, with just 80 days left until his big showdown with Hillary Clinton, we're seeing Trump say some things differently. He's suggesting a shift in his immigration policy, saying that maybe not all the undocumented have to go. (Some call it flip-flops. Others call it a "softening.") And for all his challenges with black voters (at last poll, only 1- to 2-percent of African Americans say they will vote for the man, which is a record low) and Hispanic voters (Trump is polling in the teens, below Mitt Romney did), Trump is employing an "I know you are but what am I?" strategy by calling Hillary Clinton a bigot. He's backing that up by trying to speak directly to blacks in interesting ways: calling their neighborhoods "war zones," asking their residents "what do you have to lose?" in voting for him, and implying that, well, African Americans en masse have nothing to lose, period. Granted, there are tremendous gains yet to be made for African Americans, as with most minority communities in this country—indeed, this is the fulcrum of the ongoing civil rights movement—but Trump's broad strokes are striking many as impressionistic to a fault, color-blind, and tone deaf. One reason people think this: Trump hasn't been saying this in black neighborhoods to black people, but in places like Dimondale, Michigan when he spoke to a mostly white audience and told them he would win 95-percent of the black vote in 2020.
So: Why's He Doing It?
"I hear him not talking to black people, but talking to white people about black people so they will think he cares about black people," Alexis Scott, a former publisher of The Atlanta Daily World, a black-owned newspaper, told the New York Times. In other words, in his broad-based appeals to black voters and his "softening" on immigration positions that won him the Republican nomination, Trump may not be speaking to these minority groups at all, but instead to college-educated whites who are presently turned off by the impression that Donald Trump is too biased, or perhaps it may all be a play to shore up support with the reachable groups he's begun losing (a strand of white voters) rather than the groups that may be well out of his reach (all the others).
Or, Trump may in fact be speaking to blacks and Hispanics earnestly, with hopes that he can turn around his historically low poll numbers within those communities and take on Clinton where she is strongest. While the logic behind this strategy is debatable, the upshot is not: People on both sides are confused and concerned. Says conservative leader and Iowa Representative Steve King, "If Trump should pivot on immigration or try to redefine amnesty, he will begin to lose support from his original core base."
So: Where Is This Change Coming From?
Trump's turning the corner into this homestretch of the election while staring down some very inconvenient poll numbers which have him trailing in battleground states that he needs to win in order to be competitive (Florida, Ohio, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and on). So, on one hand, a strategic tweak is in order. But this policy shift also reflects a recent campaign shakeup which saw his erstwhile Paul Manafort get buried in scandal over ties to Russia and then replaced by venerable GOP pollster Kellyanne Conway (because who better to help you with the polls than a pollster?), and former honcho of "alt-right" conservative media bastion Steve Bannon.
So: Will It Work?
Well, that's what we're all here for, right? Look, Trump has his work cut out or him. But Hillary Clinton's making his job much easier with an unflagging email controversy that is dogging her at every turn. The issues are important, but with candidates so historically disliked, one wrong move in the personality sweepstakes could put either campaign into an irretrievable tailspin. In fact, that was exactly the debate in an episode of our new election show "Voices Of The Future," which is built to tackle just these sorts of topics. Where does it all go from now, and what happens next? We'll keep unwrapping it as the weeks pass. There's a lot going on, and believe it or not, when it comes to these candidates views and histories, it seems we’re just getting started.
Facts Only is a column by REVOLT Chief Political Correspondent Amrit Singh. For more election coverage, watch his new bipartisan roundtable show Voices Of The Future, airing Tuesdays at 5PM on REVOLT TV, or follow @factsonly and @amritsingh.