A disturbing political victory in Kentucky
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell gave one of the biggest hugs I ever saw to a political candidate. There was good reason for it. His hand-picked choice for Kentucky Attorney General, Daniel Cameron, just won big in that state’s election. Cameron is the first African American to hold statewide office in Kentucky in decades. He is a staunch protégé of McConnell’s.
Both he and Trump predictably waxed ecstatic over Cameron. He’s all that they could hope for in a GOP officeholder. Forget race for a minute — he’s a hard-nosed conservative who toes the Trump and McConnell rightist party line on everything from shutting down the border to keeping hands off everyone’s guns.
In the coming months, Cameron almost certainly will be shoved by Trump, McConnell and the GOP to the head of the pack in the national limelight. He’ll be hailed as a young, black, fresh face on the national scene, who refutes the conventional thinking that only a handful of bought-and-paid-for, odd-ball blacks back Trump and the party. Even better for McConnell, who’s up for re-election next year and could face a tough battle from a formidable Democratic challenger, Cameron can be waved around as a black officeholder who proves that McConnell still has the juice to get his way in local and national politics.
That’s not all. Cameron’s win comes just days after Trump made a splash with his announcement that he’d launch a “Black Voices for Trump” group in Atlanta on Nov. 8. Trump was unabashed in declaring that the group would barnstorm the country revving up black support for his re-election. Just exactly who these blacks are and what their role in the outreach campaign would be was left unsaid.
Trump has repeatedly made clear that he believes that he can get more than a few black votes in 2020. He doesn’t completely delude himself that he’ll get anywhere near a significant bump up in the black vote, just a few more. And that’s enough. He got nearly 10 percent of the black vote in 2016, and while that’s not much of an improvement over what other GOP presidential candidates typically get from blacks, it was far more significant, because of his naked, raw race-baiting. When you toss in another small percent of black voters who did not support his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton, that added up to over 1 million black votes lost to Clinton.
That deeply hurt her in the five states that decided the White House in 2016 and will decide the White House again in 2020. How? Trump won two of those states by a phenomenally paper-thin margin. If blacks had gone to the polls in those states in anything close to the numbers they did for Obama in 2008 and 2012, Trump would have been a bare footnote in presidential election history. Clinton would have sat in the Oval Office.
The other inconvenient political truth and cause for worry is that Trump touched a tiny nerve with Cameron and the blacks who backed Trump or stayed away from polls. He shouted repeatedly that poor, underserved black neighborhoods are a mess with lousy public schools, high crime and violence, and chronic joblessness and poverty. He dumped the blame for that squarely on the Democrats who run and have run most of these cities for decades.
Trump has added to that for 2020. He continues to repeat the line that blacks are doing better, living better, working more than at any other time in living memory, and he made it all happen on his White House watch. It’s a good gag line but there’s just enough in it to sway some into buying into the myth of Trump the jobs-and-prosperity-for-all creator.
“Black Voices for Trump” will run ads hammering the Democrats for alleged indifference to and outright aid and abetting of black suffering in the inner cities, and touting the GOP’s emphasis on small business, school choice and family values as the best path to black advancement. This pitch always has some appeal to many blacks.
McConnell, fresh from his triumph with Cameron, will cite him as proof that the GOP’s and Trump’s policies are the best bet for the future for Blacks. Trump and his “Black Voices for Trump” will be right there to shout that same message out. It’s yet another warning bell.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst.