After a year of waging a campaign marked by divisive and racially coded rhetoric, Donald Trump delivered his first overt plea to African Americans on Tuesday night, vowing to improve schools, create jobs and foster safer communities.
Trump, speaking 30 miles from a Milwaukee neighborhood engulfed in riots and protests over the weekend in the wake of the shooting of a black man by a police officer, said he would restore safety within inner cities beset by violence, while castigating Democrats as out of touch with the needs of minority voters.
"Our job is to not make life more comfortable for the rioter or the robber or the looter," said Trump while addressing supporters in West Bend, Wis., a city where the black population hovers around 1%, according to recent census data. "Our job is to make life more comfortable for the African American parent who wants their kids to be able to safely — safely — walk the streets and walk to school. Or the senior citizen waiting for a bus."
Trump, who in recent months has declined invitations to speak to organizations such at the NAACP and the National Assn. of Black Journalists, assailed Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee, and her party, whom he accused of having taken for granted the support of black voters.
"The Democratic Party has failed and betrayed the African American community," said Trump, arguing that high poverty rates and poor school systems in predominantly black inner cities nationwide reflect the failures of Democrats who oversee these communities.
The Republican presidential nominee's pitch to black voters on Tuesday comes days after he used strong racial overtones to warn his mostly white audience in rural Pennsylvania that "certain areas" of the state — such as Philadelphia, where almost half the residents are black — might participate in voter fraud that benefits Clinton.
"We're hiring a lot of people. ... We're going to watch Pennsylvania, go down to certain areas and watch and study, and make sure other people don't come in and vote five times," he said.
Trump's support among black voters is dismal compared with Clinton's. A USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times tracking poll shows that black and Latino voters lean heavily toward Clinton. Trump's support among blacks hovers near 5%, compared with nearly 89% support for Clinton.
For all of Trump's jabs at Clinton and President Obama as having failed black voters, African Americans overwhelmingly view Obama favorably, based on numerous polls.
Since Trump launched his campaign last year, his inflammatory rhetoric about Mexicans — calling them "rapists" and drug runners — has been assailed by Democrats and Republicans alike as he's also vowed to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. On Monday, in a speech on foreign policy, Trump announced a new screening test, which he labeled "extreme, extreme vetting," designed to keep out anyone who does not share "American values."
In his pitch to African American voters, Trump argued that blacks would be hurt by the immigration proposals of Clinton, saying immigrants living in the country illegally "come in and take everybody's jobs, including low-income African Americans."
Clinton and Democrats have spent millions of dollars in swing states on advertising that showcases what they've called divisive and hateful rhetoric. Recent polls from swing states, such as Ohio and Florida, show Clinton's lead over Trump increasing.
At a rally in Philadelphia on Tuesday, Clinton and Vice President Joe Biden urged supporters to not be complacent.
"Don't be complacent, my friends," she warned. "Even though we're doing fine right now, I'm not taking anybody, anywhere, for granted."
During Trump's speech, he did offer a new policy proposal not connected to his talk about jobs, schools and public safety.
Trump said that if elected he will ban members of his administration from accepting speaking fees from corporations with registered lobbyists for five years. The move is a jab directed at Clinton, who has raked in millions in speaking fees and has not released transcripts from those speeches.
"I am going to forbid senior officials from trading favors for cash by preventing them from collecting speaker's fees," he said.
Times staff writer Michael A. Memoli contributed to this report.