Trump suggesting Black voters relate to his indictments prompts swift backlash

Critics called it "disgusting" and "racist," but some supporters shrugged.

February 24, 2024, 6:19 PM

Donald Trump's primary rival Nikki Haley was among those who quickly called out the former president's statements on Friday in which he suggested he has strengthened his appeal to Black Americans because, he claimed, they relate to his indictments -- remarks that were widely criticized.

"It's disgusting. But that's what happens when he goes off the teleprompter. That's the chaos that comes with Donald Trump. That's the offensiveness that's going to happen every day between now and the general election, which is why I continue to say Donald Trump cannot win a general election," Haley told ABC News' Rachel Scott while campaigning on Saturday.

The former South Carolina governor and U.N. ambassador, who is Trump's last remaining major challenger for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, called Trump's comments about Black people a "huge warning sign" and linked them to her frequent pitch to voters.

"We have to stop with the drama. We have to stop with the bad sound bites that keep happening over and over again and listen to the American people," she said.

That criticism was echoed by other Trump opponents, including President Joe Biden, though some of Trump's Black supporters downplayed how much his words mattered versus his record.

"I'm not saying that everything that Donald Trump says that I'm for it, but I'm not for 100% of what any politician says," Karqueta Lindsey, from Raleigh, North Carolina, told ABC News on Friday at his event.

Democrats, however, had sharper words.

"Donald Trump claiming that Black Americans will support him because of his criminal charges is insulting. It's moronic. And it's just plain racist," Cedric Richmond, a co-chair of Biden's reelection campaign, said in a statement.

"He thinks Black voters are so uninformed that we won't see through his shameless pandering," Richmond said.

The Democratic National Committee went after Trump, too, with a spokesperson saying in a statement that he is "showing Black voters exactly what he thinks of them - and his ideas to win them over are as corny and racist as he is."

The Rev. Al Sharpton spoke out as well at a news conference on Saturday morning, calling what Trump said "an epitome of an insult to Black folks, and if any Black Republicans had any dignity, they would denounce this characterization of Black folk by Donald Trump."

"It goes past politics. The nerve to act like we relate to mug shots -- we all know 'em mug shots because the criminal justice system, in many cases, wasn't fair to us," Sharpton said.

A Trump spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the backlash.

Former President and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump participates in a 'Get Out the Vote Rally' campaign event at Winthrop Coliseum in Rock Hill, South Carolina, Feb. 23, 2024.
Erik S. Lesser/EPA via Shutterstock

Trump had sought to court Black conservatives at the Black Conservative Federation Gala in Columbia, South Carolina, the day before the state's primary.

Among other remarks, he cited his various criminal charges. He has pleaded not guilty and says he did nothing wrong.

"I got indicted a second time and a third time and a fourth time, and a lot of people said that that's why the Black people like me because they have been hurt so badly and discriminated against. And they actually viewed me as I'm being discriminated against. It's been pretty amazing," Trump said to applause.

Prosecutors have denied being motivated by partisanship.

Trump went on to assert that Black people are starting to turn to him because "what's happening to me, happens to them," centering his appeal to Black voters by equating his criminal prosecutions to the historic discrimination Black Americans have faced.

"Does that make sense?" he said.

While Black voters remain a key part of the Democratic base, Trump has sometimes tried to focus on winning more of them over -- including with a 2020 Super Bowl ad -- and exit polls show he drew marginally more support from Black voters in 2020 than did past Republican presidential candidates.

Throughout the event on Friday, Trump portrayed himself as a victim of an unjust criminal justice system which he said appeals to Black voters, especially in the Fulton County, Georgia, election interference case, where he was ordered to take a mug shot.

"My mug shot, we've all seen the mug shot. And you know who embraced it more than anybody else: the Black population. It's incredible," he said.

Trump was joined on the stage by some of his Black political allies, including Reps. Byron Donalds and Wesley Hunt and his former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson who engaged with him repeatedly as he made off-the-cuff remarks.

"These lights are so bright in my eyes that I can't see too many people out there. But I can only see the Black ones. I can't see any white ones. You see, that's how far I've come. That's how far I've come," Trump said, quipping about a racial stereotype that Black people can't be seen in the dark as the lawmakers laughed behind him.

While onstage, Trump also touted his policy appeals to the room which included boasting about his help in implementing the First Step Act, a bipartisan criminal justice bill, and claimed he was able to help economic growth in the Black community.

Biden, he argued, was the one who is a "very nasty and vicious racist."

The ballroom was mainly filled with Black Republicans who seemed to enthusiastically cheer the former president on from their dinner tables.

"That's real," Kevin McGaray told ABC News. "We get picked on all the time unnecessarily and, and he understands what that feels like now, so there's a connection."

McGary is a Black Republican from San Francisco. He voted for Trump in 2020 and 2016.

"I appreciate the track record that he has with the Black community," he said. "Everything he did was on point for communities of color. So I appreciate that."

ABC News' Libby Cathey, Fritz Farrow, Nicholas Kerr, Davi Merchan and Benjamin Siegel contributed to this report.