COVID-19 makes Trump's work with black Americans that much harder

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President TrumpDonald John TrumpREAD: The Hill’s interview with Anthony Fauci Trump’s routing number revealed as press secretary announces he’s donating quarterly salary to HHS: report Former White House aide won M contract to supply masks amid pandemic MORE, who stepped up his effort to target black voters earlier this year by focusing on criminal justice reform and the record-low unemployment rate, has been forced to shift in recent weeks as the novel coronavirus has disproportionately affected communities of color.  

Trump has used recent events and public appearances to focus on African American and other minority communities, staging a meeting on Opportunity Zones at the White House and holding a discussion with African American leaders during a trip to Michigan this week.

Trump and his reelection campaign have ramped up efforts to target black voters using microtargeting, hoping that peeling off even a few percentage points from presumptive Democratic nominee Joe BidenJoe BidenOn The Money: Jobless rate exceeds 20 percent in three states | Senate goes on break without passing small business loan fix | Biden pledges to not raise taxes on those making under 0K Trump to attend SpaceX launch in Florida Hillicon Valley: Lawmakers demand answers on Chinese COVID hacks | Biden re-ups criticism of Amazon | House Dem bill seeks to limit microtargeting MORE could make a difference in a close race. 

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Those voters will be key in battleground states like Michigan that are viewed as crucial to the president’s reelection.

“He won Michigan by the closest of margins in 2016 and that was after Democrats didn’t make it a big priority,” said Alex Conant, former communications director for Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioOn The Money: Jobless rate exceeds 20 percent in three states | Senate goes on break without passing small business loan fix | Biden pledges to not raise taxes on those making under 0K The Hill’s Morning Report – Presented by Facebook – Mnuchin: More COVID-19 congressional action ahead Senate leaves for break without passing Paycheck Protection Program fix MORE’s 2016 presidential campaign. “The Biden campaign will make a real priority out of mobilizing African American voters in Detroit that didn’t vote in 2016.” 

On Friday, Trump’s campaign went on offense against Biden for his remark to radio host Charlamagne Tha God Friday that if you support Trump “then you ain’t black.” 

Trump campaign adviser Katrina Pierson told reporters that that the remark was “extremely racist” and an example of “white privilege.” 

Trump himself has been criticized for his history of divisive rhetoric on race and Democrats have historically won over minority communities by large margins. The president’s handling of violence in Charlottesville, Va., in August 2017 after white supremacist and Nazi groups marched through the city was a particular low member for many.

Yet he has repeatedly pitched himself as an advocate for black Americans, arguing his economic policies in particular have benefitted them. 

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Trump has struggled to articulate a clear strategy for how his administration is going to offer support for minority communities that have been hit hardest by the coronavirus. He has instead repeatedly pivoted to the economy, and the prosperity he says his policies brought before the pandemic.

“The focus on reopening and this quickness to reopening the country really kind of ignores the reality that several communities of color are facing,” said Dr. Lauren Powell, former director of health equity for the Virginia health department who directs the nonprofit Time’s Up Healthcare. 

The White House has spotlighted billions in funding that has been diverted to community centers and hospitals in underserved communities, as well as the administration’s efforts to engage with African American, Hispanic and tribal leaders.

The federal government has also temporarily suspended foreclosures and evictions of government-supported housing. 

“My administration is working relentlessly to rush supplies and resources to these communities and to protect the health, safety and economic opportunity of all African Americans and all Americans,” Trump said at Thursday’s listening session with African American leaders during a visit to a Ford Motor factory in Ypsilanti, Mich. 

The president, who was joined by Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben CarsonBenjamin (Ben) Solomon CarsonSunday shows preview: Congress spars over next round of coronavirus relief; GOP seeks offensive after news of Flynn ‘unmasking’ On The Money: Small business loan program out of money | Lawmakers at impasse over new funds | Senate adjourns for week with no deal | Trump to leave decision on reopening economies with governors Ben Carson seeks funds for mortgage companies: ‘Some of them don’t have deep pockets’ MORE and other administration officials, said his administration has sent 11 million pieces of personal protective equipment to Michigan, built 1,720 hospital beds built in Detroit, and diverted $6 million to community health centers in the city. 

The president shortly thereafter took credit for the low unemployment rate among African Americans before the pandemic, pledging to rebuild the gains lost by the virus. 

“We’re doing it again. And you’re going to see some incredible numbers.  Starting in June, July, you’re going to see some incredible numbers because it’s coming back and it’s coming back fast,” he said. 

Trump faces a number of challenges in winning support from African Americans, however.

A poll released this week by the African American Research Collaborative found that 80 percent of African Americans rate Trump’s response to the coronavirus as fair or poor. 

According to an analysis from the American Public Media (APM) Research Lab, the mortality rate for black Americans is 2.4 times as high as that for white Americans and 2.2 times that for Asians and Latinos. The figures are based on an analysis of 88 percent of domestic COVID-19 deaths for which information on race and ethnicity was available. 

Health experts argue that Trump’s message has papered over the adverse effects that the virus will continue to have on black and brown communities as states begin to reopen. 

 Camara Phyllis Jones, adjunct associate professor at the Morehouse School of Medicine, said minority communities have been hit harder because of a systemic lack of investment. As a result they are poorer, tend to have chronic disease, less access to healthcare and are more at risk to COVID-19. 

Jones said the Trump administration’s response hadn’t addressed that meaningfully and that the push to reopen the economy puts those communities further at risk. 

“If he’s worried about economic health, these communities that were being hard hit were not thriving three months ago,” Jones said. “That’s why people are more exposed, because the people living there are low paid and don’t have any savings and can’t take sick days.”

The economy has been central to Trump’s reelection bid and the president has sought to project optimism of his ability to carry the country past the pandemic and return it to a position of economic strength. 

Minority communities also have been hit hard by the locked-up economy.

The black unemployment rate reached a record low of 5.5 percent last fall, but spiked to 16.7 percent in April. Latino Americans were the hardest him with unemployment spiking to 18.9 percent in April after reaching a record low of 3.9 percent last October. 

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Doug Heye, a former Republican National Committee communications director, argued Trump’s decision to focus on reviving the economy in reaching out to black voters during the campaign is the president’s only viable option. 

“It’s his best option,” Heye said. “When you look at communities of color and how they’ve been disproportionately impacted, there’s no good news there.” 

Heye said Trump faces a huge challenge in his reelection as a result of the pandemic.

“Based on what we’ve always known in politics a 13.5 percent unemployment rate or a 9 percent [unemployment rate] should be a death knell, but we don’t know that at this point,” Heye said. “If there is movement, Trump will say, I am bringing jobs back. Does that get credence or not?”

Brett Samuels contributed.