TAMPA, Fla. — "What do you have to lose?"
It has become the signature phrase of the latest phase of Donald Trump's presidential campaign as he tries to win over skeptical black voters.
He’s been making the pitch repeatedly at rallies in recent days, at the same time offering softer language on his approach to immigration, promising a “humane and efficient” approach to those who are in the US illegally, rather than talking about mass deportation for all.
At a rally in Tampa, Florida, on Wednesday, the question appeared again, wrapped in a speech mostly delivered from the teleprompter, that stressed “jobs, jobs, jobs.” Trump promised that he would bring new employment opportunities to blacks, Latinos, and “all American citizens.”
So far, however, Trump has delivered his new message in majority-white cities. The crowd was also overwhelmingly white on Wednesday. But his latest rally followed a report in the Washington Post that the candidate will soon venture into the black and Latino communities that he is trying to win over.
In early September, the Post reported, Trump may visit poor neighborhoods in Detroit with Ben Carson, his primary rival who grew up in the city before making his name as a neurosurgeon. The article added that Trump plans to visit charter schools, churches, and business in urban Latino and black communities.
Some media commentators have suggested that Trump’s black and Latino outreach has two intended audiences: not only the communities he’s addressing, but also white voters — especially college graduates — who have been reluctant to back a candidate who has been widely perceived as biased against blacks and Latinos. (One poll in July, run for the Associated Press, indicated that 50% of Americans thought the label “racist” fitted Trump “very” or “somewhat” well.)
Arguably, that second group contains many more potential Trump supporters — and may hold the balance in the swing states, like Florida, where Trump has been polling badly in recent weeks.
BuzzFeed News asked people at the Tampa rally what they thought of his plans to reach out personally to black and Latino communities. The most common response: The Republican Party should have been doing this for years.
“Amen, brother! It’s about time,” said Jeremiah Fortson, 61. Together with his sister, Fortson runs an adult family care home in Plant City. He also is a longtime conservative Republican who supported Ted Cruz in the primaries before throwing his support behind Trump after the GOP convention.
Fortson blames the Democrats for problems that affect poor black communities, and wishes that his own party had done more to engage with black Americans.
“What Donald Trump’s doing right now, the Republicans should have been talking about for years," he said.
Phara McLachlan, the daughter of immigrants from Haiti who runs a management and technology consulting firm in Tampa, agreed.
“I think he’s doing what he should be doing, going out to communicate to folks,” she said.
But McLachlan, 39, and her husband Scott, 47, both graduates of the University of South Florida, rejected the idea that Trump’s black and Latino outreach is actually targeting educated white voters. That, they argued, was media spin.
“I don’t think he’s ever changed his message,” Scott McLachlan, who served as a combat engineer in Operation Desert Storm, told BuzzFeed News. “I think, originally, the media tried to misconstrue it. They purposely twisted his words and made them more harsh than what they were in reality.”
Sam Swies, a former president of an insurance company, grew up in Detroit and hopes that Trump does visit the city.
“We have a lot of people out of work,” he said. “We’ve lost business to every country and he promises to bring it back.”
Swies, 73, is on the Trump Committee in Central Florida, and came to the rally dressed as the Republican nominee, in suit and blond wig. He told BuzzFeed News that he now lives in a community of “120,000 people, on golf carts.”
James Williamson, a 73-year-old Vietnam veteran from Plant City, was pleased to hear that that Trump is planning to visit black churches.
“I have a lot of faith in the churches" to promote brotherhood, he said. “Trump is not a racist.”
Williamson grew up in Mississippi, where he witnessed the struggles of the civil rights era. He argued that Martin Luther King Jr.'s message of peace has gotten lost in racial tensions that have divided America. As a white American, Williamson said he has felt “afraid to show remorse” for the injustices of the old South.
But are the black and Latino communities of Detroit and other cities open to hearing what Trump has to say, if he comes to visit?
Fortson argued that the message of job opportunities is a good one, but conceded it may be an uphill struggle given what he sees as a biased media, and his own experiences talking politics with members of his own family.
One of eight children, Fortson is the only Republican.
“I can’t sway them in any way,” he said. “They can’t tell me why they’re Democrats. They just don’t want to talk about it.”