Inside the Trump campaign’s effort — and struggle — to win over Black voters in Texas

Frederick Douglass Republican Engagement Strategy creator KCarl Smith spoke at a Black Voices for Trump event in February. The meeting was part of a series of events across the country to reach Black voters.      Angela Piazza for The Texas Tribune
Frederick Douglass Republican Engagement Strategy creator KCarl Smith spoke at a Black Voices for Trump event in February. The meeting was part of a series of events across the country to reach Black voters. Angela Piazza for The Texas Tribune

WACO, Texas – On the door for the McLennan County Republican Party headquarters on a February night, a flyer read, “Black Voices for Trump.” Inside, 50 or so faces — virtually all of them white — looked up at the speaker before them.

“How many of you are tired of being called a racist?” asked the speaker, KCarl Smith, who is Black.

Almost everyone in the crowd raised their hands or nodded solemnly.

Smith, a native of Pine Bluff, Arkansas, who grew up in Alabama, came to Waco in a long-shot attempt to energize support among Black voters for President Donald Trump. Finding none in the audience, Smith spent most of the evening coaching white Republican activists on how to better engage with voters of color.

The meeting was one of a series of events the Trump campaign has held nationwide to chip away at his broad unpopularity with Black voters and flip the narrative that he is hostile to people of color. The president’s reelection campaign has also sought to do that with swag targeted at Black millennials emblazoned with the word “Woke” and by hosting online “Black Voices for Trump Real Talk” events. But it has proved a tall task, given Trump’s racially divisive behavior and tweets since he’s been in office.

Smith said he came to Waco to have “real talk” with Republicans about delivering the message of liberty to people who might not look like them.

“Republicans are terrible when it comes to engaging minorities. I want to show them not only the importance of it, but suggest to them how to do it,” he said. “The party always talks about wanting to be more diverse, more inclusive, but whatever they’re doing they need to stop because it’s not working.”

Reaching a diverse group of voters will grow increasingly important to the party in Texas, where the GOP is overwhelmingly white in a state where the white share of the population is shrinking. And any efforts will face significant opposition from Texas Democrats, who say activating the Black vote is crucial to their November chances. The Texas Democratic Party announced last week that it had launched a joint effort to contact “1.5 million Black registered voters in Texas to promote registration and mobilization.”