"Red flag": Expert says Trump won't win NY — but his Bronx rally should be a "wake-up" call for Dems

Voters of color are warning Democrats: "Don't take them for granted," professor says

By Tatyana Tandanpolie

Staff Writer

Published May 25, 2024 6:00AM (EDT)

Donald Trump is seen at a rally in support of his 2024 presidential campaign at Crotona Park on May 23, 2024 in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Andrea Renault/Star Max/GC Images/Getty Images)
Donald Trump is seen at a rally in support of his 2024 presidential campaign at Crotona Park on May 23, 2024 in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Andrea Renault/Star Max/GC Images/Getty Images)

Former President Donald Trump's Bronx rally on Thursday sought to appeal to voters of color in one of the most Democratic counties in the country amid early polling that pins him just ahead of President Joe Biden in key swing states. 

The former president delivered his remarks from a small stage in the South Bronx's Crotona Park, railing against the presumptive Democratic nominee and his handling of immigration while casting himself as the candidate who would deliver for Black and Hispanic voters.

“The biggest negative impact is against our Black population and our Hispanic population, who are losing their jobs, losing their housing, losing everything they can lose," the presumptive Republican nominee said, referring to the influx of migrants to the city.

Colored with cheers from a diverse crowd united by bright red MAGA hats and "Never Surrender" posters, the rally marked Trump's first large-scale campaign event in the city since 2016. 

His stop in the South Bronx, a predominantly Black and Hispanic neighborhood with a high poverty rate, also marked a departure from the majority white areas he normally holds rallies in, a change likely made, in part, because the demands of his Manhattan criminal trial confine him to the city's limits. 

Though his audience did not entirely reflect the diversity of the neighborhood, Black and Latino supporters attended in large numbers, reflected by the Spanish coming from the crowd and the invited speakers — including Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Fla., former New York City Councilmember Rubén Díaz Sr. and former congressional candidate Madeline Brame. In around 90 minutes, the multicultural smorgasboard that was the Trump rally soon became emblematic of the broader, nationwide trend of voters of color voicing greater support for the Republican Party ahead of the upcoming election.

The former president's appearance in the South Bronx Thursday demonstrates that his campaign is both better organized and more strategic in its outreach to certain communities, said Dr. Sharon Navarro, a professor of political science at the University of Texas at San Antonio. Pointing to his 2020 campaign and his spending "enormous amounts of time, months ahead of time," appealing to Latinos in Florida, Navarro told Salon Trump is reupping that effort.  

"We are seeing this again, he is investing time. The Republican Party, which is the Trump party now, is investing time and reaching out to minorities in heavily Democratic areas," she explained. "So this is a wake-up call for Democrats. They're telling Democrats, 'Don't take them for granted. You have to invest time and you have to create this relationship because this is what we're seeing Donald Trump doing.'" 

Even without direct outreach, early polling suggests Trump has made headway with Black and Latino voters this election cycle.

A New York Times/Sienna Poll from earlier this year saw 23 percent of Black respondents and 46 percent of Hispanic respondents say they would cast their ballot for Trump if the election were held at the time. Those figures are a notable jump from the 8 percent of Black and 28 percent of Latino voters who backed Trump in 2016, and the 8 percent of Black and 38 percent of Latino voters who supported him in 2020

While reports have read that data as a marked shift in Black and Latino voters' political leanings moving rightward, Dr. Vincent Hutchings, a professor of political science and Afroamerican studies at the University of Michigan, said that such an interpretation is "obviously uninformed." Instead, he said, the evidence lends itself more to the idea that voters are "less supportive of the Democratic candidate" and "more supportive of the Republican candidate than they are traditionally."

"Voters in general are neither right nor left. They are all over the map when it comes to their political views, and that is true for voters of color as anyone else," he explained. Even then, Hutchings added, evidence that Latino and Black voters are "more open to a Trump candidacy" than expected is "pretty limited."

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Trump's decision, then, to hold a rally in the Bronx reflected a "well-known" strategy, in which candidates give the impression they've made inroads in an opponent's stronghold as a way to push the opponent to redirect their resources there as opposed to another area, Hutchings said, noting that Trump taking the Bronx in November is incredibly unlikely. 

The Bronx, like most other New York City boroughs, is staunchly Democrat, with 83.3 percent of its voters choosing Biden in 2020 and 88 percent casting a vote for former Secretary of State Hilary Clinton in 2016. 

Still, part of Trump's appeal to neighborhoods like the South Bronx — which boasts a 64 percent Hispanic and 31 percent Black population, while having a poverty rate 24.8 points greater than the national rate — is in the attention he pays to working class issues, Navarro said.

In contrast, the Democratic Party has shifted from working class values toward college-educated individuals, which has alienated voters whose immediate concerns revolve around being "outpriced" and having greater monthly expenses — a refrain heard across the country, she explained, noting that "voters usually vote with what they experience in the immediacy."

"When you do that, you're ignoring a vast population that is hurting now in an economy that seems to do well on paper, but when we talk about practicalities of gas and going to stores, it's hurting the working class," Navarro said. "This is the class that Donald Trump knows will go to the polls, and he is speaking to that audience and Democrats have forgotten to speak to that audience."

During his Thursday evening remarks, Trump appeared to search for a balance between espousing a colorblind, America-First ideal against the "radical left" and appealing to the manifestations of inequity that the Black and Hispanic audience members before him likely endure.

In one moment, while decrying the effort to defund police and vowing to protect law enforcement, he highlighted discrepancies in protection for people of color. 

“Remember Black, Hispanic, Asian people need this protection and safety more than anyone else – don’t ever forget it," he said. "And after years of talk by the radical left Democrats, we are going to give them the protection they need and we’re gonna protect the police.”

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At another point, the former president appealed to the crowd's sense of unity while criticizing Biden's handling of the economy, evoking nationwide concerns about inflation and unemployment. 

“It doesn’t matter whether you’re Black or brown or white or whatever the hell color you are, it doesn’t matter," Trump told his sea of supporters. "We are all Americans and we’re going to pull together as Americans. We all want better opportunity, and I’m not just going to promise it. I’m going to deliver it as I did just a short while ago.”

Hutchings, however, offered other possibilities for the potential increased interest in Trump among voters of color. One could be the "unlikely" possibility that the interest is genuine, while another could be that voters "just aren't paying that much attention yet" to the upcoming race. Navarro echoed the latter point, noting the public's increased attention on the day-to-day impacts of inflation. 

Hutchings added, however, that drawing the conclusion that support for the former president among Black voters has risen from the waning support for Biden in the data is hard to do. 

"It strikes me as more plausible that some of the traditional Democratic support has withdrawn, and therefore, the support that we would ordinarily expect — about 10 percent for the Republicans — seems higher because those African Americans who are primarily democratic, some fraction of them, especially young people, have withdrawn because of disillusionment," he explained, adding he doesn't expect Trump or any other Republican to receive more than 15 percent of the Black vote. 

A survey by Pew Research published last month saw 77 percent of Black voters saying they would vote for or lean toward Biden, as opposed to just 18 percent who said they would vote for or lean toward Trump.

In the case of Latino voters, the current rise in Republican support appears to reflect a return to the 2:1 ratio of votes for Democrats at the presidential level that persisted among the demographic for the past 25 years outside of its shift to 3:1 during the Obama years, Hutchings said. 

While historical voting patterns still offer a glimpse at what the future could hold, the relatively unprecedented and "unusual circumstances" of the 2024 election — the ages of the candidates, the nature of a former president challenging a current one and the fact that Trump is facing four criminal trials — make predicting the outcome of November's race difficult, Hutchings continued. 

"It's true that Trump is currently doing better than usual among Blacks and Latinos, or another way of saying that is Biden's doing less well," he said. "But historically, those people come home, so to speak."

Navarro said that the election is too far out to be able to tell whether the uptick in support for Trump (or downturn in support for Biden) will translate at the polls.

"But what this does do is raise a red flag to Democrats that they need to be on the ball, they need to be more aware, they need to begin to invest early on and reaching out to these minority communities," she said. 

By Tatyana Tandanpolie

Tatyana Tandanpolie is a staff writer at Salon. Born and raised in central Ohio, she moved to New York City in 2018 to pursue degrees in Journalism and Africana Studies at New York University. She is currently based in her home state and has previously written for local Columbus publications, including Columbus Monthly, CityScene Magazine and The Columbus Dispatch.

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2024 Election Donald Trump Politics Reporting The Bronx Voters Of Color