Only 11 percent of black people identify as or lean Republican, and in the last 50 years or so, black Republicans’ political and policy views, especially on issues connected to race, have largely placed them at odds with the mainstream of African-American political opinions.
Being a political minority among black people and a racial minority within the GOP makes for a precarious position, indeed. The recent emergence of Donald Trump as the presumptive Republican presidential nominee has destabilized black Republicans’ already shaky foundation even more. Trump is deeply unpopular among black people. According to recent surveys by Reuters, roughly 80 percent of black people view Trump unfavorably. Among black women, Trump’s disapproval rating appears to be approaching 100 percent.
Given this context, black support for Trump appears peculiar, to say the least; but at first glance, it appears that he has a following among some black audiences. To hear his black surrogates (including Ben Carson), one would think that many black voters enthusiastically support the Republican nominee. The National Black Republican Association endorsed Trump back in January, while NBCBLK diligently tracked down enthusiastic groups of black Trump supporters at rallies in March. Most recently, the National Diversity Coalition for Trump launched in April, spearheaded by a group largely composed of African Americans.
But realistically, where do black Republicans fall on the issue of Donald Trump? Much like the infamous presidential election of 1964, the 2016 contest is forcing black Republicans to define their loyalties. Writing about this exact tension more than 50 years ago, the black editors of the Los Angeles Sentinel made a ruthless but accurate observation: The election made “wishy-washy” black Republicans “take open stands on topics they had skirted or about which they had double-talked for years.”
A look at the numbers hints at this tension and indicates that black Republicans’ politics and political affiliations don’t convey simple answers, despite the boasts of Trump’s black faithful. In fact, it appears as though black Republicans are divided in their attitudes toward Trump. For example, among black people who identify as very conservative/moderately conservative/lean conservative, Trump’s unfavorability rating sits at 76 percent; among black affiliates of the Tea Party, it is 61 percent. Some of this debate has played out in public spaces like social media and cable news channels, where black Trump supporters have battled viciously with black Republicans in the #NeverTrump camp.
There’s even a level of diversity within the latter camp, with some black Republicans rejecting Trump for his racism, whereas others accuse him of not being a “true conservative.” And there are those, like Lisa Fritsch, who accuse him of both but place the blame squarely on the Republican Party for creating the conditions that produced a viable Trump candidacy. As Fritsch writes in her piece, Republicans are guilty of a kind of “paranoia that a black conservative can’t really be trusted. After all, at the end of the day, they’re still black first.”