Trump Black Conservative Federation
President Donald Trump told attendees of the Black Conservative Federation’s annual gala that he was being “indicted for you, the Black population.” Andrew Harnik/AP

The Republican Party’s Plan to Win Over Black Men Is a Mess

Absent any national infrastructure, outside groups are attempting to devise strategies of their own.

Pastor Darrell Scott called former President Donald Trump earlier this month to tell him he was working on a plan.

“We’re going to try to get you 25% [of the Black men],” Scott, who co-founded the National Diversity Coalition for Trump in 2016, recalled telling the former president in an interview with NOTUS.

“Well, I’m already at 28% right now,” Trump said, according to Scott — a remark he perceived as a joke. Trump won 6% of the Black vote in 2016, and that number grew to 8% in 2020.

Republicans want to court Black male voters, but absent any clear infrastructure from the Republican National Committee, prominent Black leaders say they are devising strategies of their own.

Scott, along with other Black operatives, is preparing to launch a 501(c)(4) organization called the Garfield Project — named after the 20th president — in April. Trump-supporting singer turned reality star Ray J is on the executive board. The group has grand plans: promote Trump’s “America First” agenda to Black men with digital advertising and boots-on-the-ground outreach and deal with what Scott called “intraparty racism.”

Black voters, in particular men, are becoming more independent but won’t commit to switching parties “because of the veneer of racism that’s associated with the Republican Party,” Scott said. He wouldn’t commit to any budget plans for the Garfield Project beyond mentioning a receptive group of donors.

Other outside groups, like the Black Conservative Federation, are also aiming to turn out Black men for Republicans in November. Trump addressed BCF in late February, where he said, “I’m being indicted for you, the Black population.” The group’s president, Diante Johnson, tells NOTUS that it is already active in 20 states, though its Federal Election Commission filings showed the group’s affiliated PAC had not spent a dime in 2023.

These efforts come as fear mounts that the Democratic Party is losing its grip on voters of color; President Joe Biden’s poll numbers have dropped disproportionately among Black men compared to white voters.

Still, Republicans are coming from behind — far behind — and the national party appears a long way from having the infrastructure in place to build a more diverse coalition. That’s not to mention the party’s insistence on attacking diversity efforts.

“The strongest indictment against the Republican Party is that in 2024, conservatives still don’t have an apparatus in place to compete against the Democratic Party for Black voters,” Scott said, explaining his new venture.

The RNC, now co-chaired by Lara Trump, scuttled plans last week to eliminate all existing minority outreach centers, after facing negative headlines and pronounced member backlash.

“Yeah, well, actually, we are keeping those all open,” Lara Trump said in an interview on Fox News. “I can assure you, at the RNC and at the Trump campaign, this is a wide-open tent.”

But the future of the program is still unclear. A source familiar with the committee’s planning said there are about a half-dozen minority outreach offices open across the country; the party had planned for 40 offices to be open this year.

“The minority community centers are like the heart of our minority outreach,” the source said, describing them as community-gathering places run by people from minority neighborhoods. The RNC’s minority outreach staff were all fired by email and invited to reapply for their same positions as part of the RNC’s efforts to clean house earlier this month, the source said.

“I’m not aware of any minority staffers that have been asked to reinterview yet,” they said. “Everyone’s being reinterviewed this week, and none of the minority staffers in those community centers have been.”

The Republican National Committee did not respond to a request for comment.

Donald Trump Black Supporters
Trump won 8% of the Black vote in 2020. Evan Vucci/AP

Black voters picked Biden by 87% and made up 13% of the electorate in 2020, according to exit polls. However, overall slumps in voter turnout among Black voters in crucial cities like Philadelphia and Milwaukee have concerned Democrats. A NYT/Siena poll last November found that Trump’s support from Black voters ballooned to 22% in key swing states.

The Biden administration has increased presence in battleground states like North Carolina touting the president’s Investing in America agenda. Still, one grassroots organizer said many Black voters just aren’t making the connection.

“Seven out of 10 people we talk to have no idea what we’re talking about when we mention the Inflation Reduction Act, for example,” Jovita Lee, policy director at the liberal Black political engagement organization Advance Carolina, said. “But, it has actually provided a lot of benefits that people are just unaware of.”

The Biden campaign slammed Republicans’ efforts to court Black voters in a statement to NOTUS, touting its early engagement with Black voters.

“Donald Trump thinks so lowly of Black voters that he believes he can win our support by hawking sneakers,” said Jasmine Harris, the Biden campaign’s director of Black media. “Black voters not only make up the backbone of the Democratic Party — we remain some of the most engaged and informed voters every election.”

While the GOP still sees an opening, everyone from state-level Black Republican candidates to elected Black Republicans in Congress says their party still has an infrastructure problem.

“Republicans should not expect a return when we have not made an investment,” Michigan Rep. John James said. “We need to do much more to speak to all economically disadvantaged voters which are disproportionately Black and brown.”

The Republican Party’s minority outreach center in Philadelphia, which opened in 2022 and shuttered after the midterm election, remains closed. Republicans won 8% of Black voters in Pennsylvania’s Senate race that year, up from the 7% Trump netted in 2020.

Calvin Turner, the Pennsylvania GOP’s director of engagement and advancement, who opened two offices in 2020 for Black Voices for Trump and the midterm outreach center, said Trump was “instrumental” in putting those offices in place and believes that the campaign will help to do so again.

“Would I have liked to have seen in January or in November of 2023, the opening of offices? Because I do believe that you can’t campaign in the last hour of a campaign and get voters. I think you need to have that infrastructure in place,” Turner said, having done a tour of the state himself. “But I do realize the challenges that our party is facing, and I think there may be a little bit more urgency once the primary election is over.”

Republicans have been dealing with cash flow problems; the RNC had $11.3 million in cash on hand at the end of February compared to the DNC’s $26.5 million, according to FEC filings. Several state parties are inundated with legal fees surrounding Trump’s 2020 election denialism. Meanwhile, Trump’s campaign does not have a dedicated surrogate for Black voters. It recently appointed former Congressman Mark Walker, who is white, as the director of outreach for faith groups and minority communities. Walker did not respond to a request for comment.

Michigan’s state Republican Party has yet to forge a clear plan to tackle Black voters.

“Might be a little premature,” Michigan GOP Chair Pete Hoekstra texted NOTUS when asked to discuss the party’s outreach. Hoekstra’s text came after a meeting with Trump, who reportedly urged the state’s Republicans to ramp up their outreach to Black voters.

FEC filings from January show that the party had almost $2 million cash on hand at the start of 2023 and ended the year with just over $240,000.

“It’s not just, ‘If we get the money,’” Martell Bivings, a Black Republican candidate for Michigan’s 13th Congressional District, said. “It’s also who we hire. Where are they? What’s their ability to be received?”

In Georgia, the Black Republican Council, an auxiliary group to the state party, organized a seven-figure statewide billboard and radio campaign that’s still pending approval and funding from the state party and RNC. The campaign — which would feature anti-abortion, education choice, border security and voter integrity messages — needs funding from the party. The group hopes to run it from June through November in the Atlanta metro area, Columbus, Augusta, Savannah and Athens.

“Both the party and RNC have said that they feel it’s a worthwhile initiative and that they would look at it,” Council Chair Camilla Moore said. “One of the things I’ve been sure to say to the state party and the RNC is that we don’t need for y’all to do messaging. Let us as Black people who live in our community develop our own messaging that’s actually relatable … because they do a horrible job.”

When it comes to messaging, Black organizers in the Republican Party are consistently contending with racism within their party. Scott told NOTUS that the only way to tackle it is to expose it. “We will make them come to the light and either acknowledge their racism or denounce it. Either way it goes, the people standing with them have to make a choice,” he said. Scott recently accused Turning Point USA founder Charlie Kirk of inspiring another generation of “Hitler Youth.”

“Influencers like Charlie Kirk veil their racism using policy,” an associate of Scott said. “They do things like use affirmative action to attack Black people and other clickbait rhetoric to make money.”

Turning Point USA did not respond when asked for comment. But it’s not just conservative influencers like Kirk who are making this difficult.

Trump called one Black prosecutor leading his criminal case “rabid” while calling another an “animal.” Trump has said undocumented immigrants are “poisoning the blood of our country” and suggested an expansion to his Muslim ban instituted in 2020 if he should regain office. While in office, Trump referred to Haiti and other African nations as “shithole” countries. And most recently, Trump said there would be a “bloodbath” if he were to lose.

It’s comments like those that bring Cornell Belcher, a longtime Democratic pollster, some calm. In focus groups, Belcher says voters take note of Trump’s rhetoric and associate him with the “mainstreaming and acceptance of racism.”

“Biden has his challenges to rebuild the 2020 coalition … but the threat to that isn’t Donald Trump,” Belcher told NOTUS. “The threat to that is severe disillusionment and their cynicism, which leads them to a third-party off-ramp.”

Jasmine Wright is a reporter at NOTUS. Calen Razor is a NOTUS reporter and an Allbritton Journalism Institute fellow. Tinashe Chingarande, a NOTUS reporter and an Allbritton Journalism Institute fellow, contributed to this report.