Earlier this week, the Republican National Committee hired three new staffers to assist with African American outreach. They will have their work cut out for them. Donald Trump’s average level of black support from four recent national polls is 2 percent, and a July NBC/Wall Street Journal battleground poll showed Trump getting exactly 0 percent support among African American voters in Ohio and Pennsylvania. And the candidate is not helping his own cause. He has demonstrated a steady penchant for resurrecting racially divisive campaign tactics of the past, tactics that simultaneously ignored black voters and used race as a wedge to attract disgruntled white voters in the South.
These cynical methods are precisely what the leaders of the Party of Lincoln have spent the last decade trying to bury. Speaking before the NAACP national convention in July 2005, Republican National Committee (RNC) chair Ken Mehlman acknowledged the party’s “Southern Strategy” and directly apologized: “I am here as Republican chairman to tell you we were wrong.” In 2010, Michael Steele—the first black head of the RNC—admitted in a talk with students at DePaul University that Republicans had given minorities little reason to vote for them: “For the last 40-plus years we had a Southern Strategy that alienated many minority voters by focusing on the white male vote in the South.” Following Mitt Romney’s 2012 defeat, RNC chair Reince Priebus presided over what came to be known as “the autopsy report,” which laid out a roadmap for Republican candidates, emphasizing that future electoral success depended on reaching out to ethnic minorities and young people.