Trump has a rocky relationship with black voters. He’s trying to change it.

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Months before his criminal trial began, former President Donald Trump stood before black conservatives in South Carolina and made a direct appeal to African American voters with a provocative – and, critics said, racist — theme: Like you, I am being unfairly prosecuted by the criminal justice system.

It was just the beginning of a highly calculated effort by Trump to chip away at President Joe Biden’s standing in a constituency that has historically been among the Democratic Party’s most reliable voting blocs.

Three Trump campaign officials outlined to POLITICO the former president’s strategy to attract Black voters during the trial and beyond, revealing deep insight into their game plan as they ramp up campaigning ahead of November.

According to Trump’s advisers, the former president and his campaign will use his legal troubles — and racial issues in New York more broadly — to appeal to black voters by suggesting that Trump, a 77-year-old white man from a privileged family, and with a history of offensive rhetoric, is plagued by the same injustices that plague Black Americans.

He will make targeted pitches to voters of color during campaign-style stops in and around the city, including in historically black neighborhoods like Harlem. And they say he will try to turn the city’s migrant crisis into a wedge issue to attract Black voters bitter about local Democratic officials who have approved millions in funds to support newly arrived immigrants instead of their communities.

“The Biden administration has made a conscious choice to put the interests of illegal immigrants above the interests of the American people,” Trump campaign political director James Blair told POLITICO. “And black voters, like every other group of voters in America, are outraged about this.”

Perhaps no politician in modern America has been able to address voters’ concerns about race, ethnic rivalry, and cultural grievances as effectively as Trump. By Calling Mexican immigrants “rapists.” and criminals who said there was “blame on both sides” after white supremacists and neo-Nazis engaged in violent protests in Charlottesville, the former president has consistently appealed to white, male and less-educated grassroots voters on ethnicity issues, often pointing to met widespread backlash from Democrats and his own party.

But he has made some progress with black voters in recent polls. And his campaign is now deliberately targeting them in a more sophisticated way than he displayed early in his political career, using his ongoing trial in New York as a platform.

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Black men in particular are an important constituency that his advisers say is reachable and slipping away from Biden. According to a Wall Street Journal Survey this month, about 30 percent of black men in the seven key swing states said they would definitely or probably vote for Trump for president.

The dissatisfaction with Biden among this voting bloc stems from his handling of the economy and immigration. If these numbers hold, it would mark a nearly threefold increase in support among black men for Trump, who received just 12 percent of the vote from black men four years ago, according to AP VoteCast, a survey of voters conducted on Election Day and the days immediately preceding it.

The stakes for Trump – and Biden – are enormous. Even a marginal improvement for Trump with black voters could tilt the outcome in closely contested states in November.

Trump has already started using this strategy. During a stop at a bodega in the heart of Harlem last week, the former president blasted the border policies of Biden and New York Democrats for awarding millions of dollars in rent and food aid to people who had only recently entered the country.

“They’ve come in and taken over the parks, they’ve taken over your hotels, they’re taking over everything, there’s no point,” said Trump, who also mentioned a program in New York City set up in January that provides $53 million in prepaid debit cards to help tens of thousands of migrants in the city pay for temporary housing and food.

“And do you know what they did?” he said. “They have destroyed so many people, the African American community is now being deprived of jobs, immigrants are taking away their jobs that are here illegally.”

Trump’s rhetoric on the immigration issue is especially powerful. Tens of thousands of migrants, from Latin American countries and elsewhere, have been used as political pawns by conservative-leaning states in recent years. These migrants, many hoping to gain asylum, have been bused or traveled to liberal-leaning cities like New York, Chicago, Boston and Washington, creating tension with Black residents who feel marginalized and with elected leaders of color who govern these cities.

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For example, at a contentious Chicago City Council meeting last summer, a black councilwoman, Jeanette Taylor, broke down in tears during a debate over whether to transfer $51 million in city funds to help immigrants.

“I’m so tired of it that when it’s a crisis for everyone, we say, ‘We have to do something.’ But when there is this violence in the black community, nothing is said or done,” Taylor said.

Yet activists also branded her a “sell-out” and a “traitor” when she voted to approve the cash transfer.

Lynne Patton, a senior adviser to the Trump campaign, said in an interview that the campaign “would be foolish not to take advantage of the fact that Trump is in New York State, in New York City, which is disproportionately affected’. hit by illegal immigration since Biden came to power.”

Critics of the former president, however reports highlight that since Trump’s overhaul of the Republican National Committee, minority-themed outreach centers established under former RNC leadership have closed. It’s evidence, they say, that Trump’s efforts to connect with voters of color are nothing more than a facade, though Trump officials confirmed they will identify and maintain strategic centers they say are critical to their broader outreach efforts.

Blair laughed off those characterizations.

“Having an office doesn’t mean reach,” Blair said. “They don’t want you to talk about the fact that 62 percent of black voters say immigration and border security are going in the wrong direction and want you to talk about office space.”

Trump officials admit they must be strategic in how they deploy Trump, as the New York trial will drastically limit his ability to campaign. The only day the trial does not regularly take place is Wednesday, although Trump will typically be free on weekends to raise money and host events. He will hold a rally in North Carolina on Saturday.

Still, Trump’s efforts to reach black voters can sometimes seem manufactured or clumsy. Earlier this year, the former president released a Trump sneaker, which a Fox News pundit praised as “connecting with Black America.” More recently, the former president’s campaign tried to create a viral moment on social media in April when Trump visited a Chick-fil-A restaurant in Atlanta and was greeted by black fast-food workers. Videos posted online showed a well-wisher, a Black woman named Michaelah Montgomery, telling him, “I don’t care what the media tells you, Mr. Trump, we support you,” before walking over and asking him gave a hug. .

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Some black conservatives in Georgia criticized Trump's visit to Chick-fil-A as pandering rather than authentic outreach to the community.

The Chick-fil-A is located along the way from the airport to the Fulton County Jail, where the former president took his infamous mugshot in a criminal case in Georgia, where he is accused of involvement in a scheme to undermine that state’s 2020 election.

Some black conservatives in Georgia, however, criticized Trump’s visit as pandering rather than authentic outreach to the community. Black conservative radio talk show host Sonnie Johnson called it a “photo op” on social media, while Felecia Killings, who runs a conservative think tank specializing in black outreach in Atlanta, labeled it banal.

“This is not a serious moment for Trump and Black outreach right now,” she said in an interview. The campaign pushed back on the characterizations of both Killings and Johnson.

However, the Trump world takes it very seriously. Last week, Donald Trump Jr. sat down at the table an extensive interview with hip-hop podcaster and internet personality DJ Akademiks, where the former president’s son touted how his father would help black Americans if he were elected in November. He also compared the search by federal agents at Mar-a-Lago to the recent raids on Sean “Diddy” Combs’ homes in Miami and Los Angeles, noting that both were “nonsense.”

“I’m not saying our justice system has always been fair,” he continued. “If they can do this to Trump…who wants to do it?”

It was similar to Trump’s message to black Republicans in South Carolina last February, where he tried to connect with the public by highlighting his own problems with the criminal justice system.

“Our message to the black community in this election will be very simple,” Trump said. “If you want strong borders, safe neighborhoods, rising wages, good jobs, good education and the return of the American Dream, then congratulations, you’re a Republican.”

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