'We're supposed to be Democrats': Black Trump supporters on why they back the president

Julia Terruso, The Philadelphia Inquirer on

Published in Political News

PHILADELPHIA -- The Rev. Todd Johnson's parishioners in North Philadelphia deal with gun violence, poverty and a lack of affordable housing -- much of which he blames on Democrats who have controlled the city for decades.

"I support Donald Trump not because he's perfect but he's a Republican and I believe in Republican ideology," Johnson said. "I believe in smaller government, I believe the government should get out of the way and let the free market do what it does."

Johnson also wants to see abortion rights scaled back. He's economically conservative and he believes in expanding charter schools to give parents more options for their kids. So when Trump's campaign needed a place to host an event focused on increasing support among black voters in January, Johnson gladly volunteered First Immanuel Baptist on Ridge Avenue.

"Not everybody in North Philly is a Democrat," Johnson said. "We have multi-interests just like every community does."

For Trump, who won 8% of black voters nationally in 2016 -- a slight increase compared with Mitt Romney in 2012 but still an exceptionally low number -- achieving even a marginal increase in black support in 2020 has become a mission. Trump and his campaign have started making high-profile pitches to African American voters.

During the Super Bowl, the campaign aired an ad featuring a woman whose son had been released from prison, thanks to a criminal justice reform bill Trump signed. And in a reality TV show-like moment during his State of the Union address last week, Trump announced a scholarship for a Philadelphia fourth grader as part of an attack on what he called "failing government schools." The Philadelphia Inquirer later reported she actually attends one of the city's most desirable charter schools.


Black Trump supporters interviewed over the past month in and around Philadelphia cited a number of reasons for backing him: the bipartisan criminal justice reform package, jobs and the economy, and abortion restrictions, as well as legislation creating "opportunity zones" to spark development in poor urban areas.

Trump won Pennsylvania by fewer than 44,000 votes, or about 0.7%, so even a slight increase in black support could help him win it again in 2020, when it's expected to play a similarly decisive role. According to exit polls, Trump won 14% of black male voters in Pennsylvania, but just 1% of black female voters.

Growing that support will be an uphill battle. A Washington Post poll in January found that 8 in 10 black voters think Trump is racist, while three-quarters of black adults said Trump's actions have been "bad for African Americans."

And even the support Trump's campaign highlights isn't always as advertised. A national political action committee, Black Americans to Re-Elect the President, had 35 donors from Pennsylvania in 2019. The Inquirer confirmed identities for 18 of them, all of whom were white. Black Americans for the President's Agenda, a separate PAC supporting Trump, also has many wealthy white donors.


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