CLEVELAND — Taylor Haynes, a retired surgeon, cattle rancher and small business owner from Wyoming, stood out in the crowd of thousands gathered for the Republican National Convention.
It wasn’t just the cowboy hat and fringed vest that set the Wyoming delegate apart but also his skin color. He was one of only 18 black delegates at a convention marked by angry protesters, disenchanted delegates and internal fights over the GOP’s nomination of Donald J. Trump to take on Hillary Clinton in November.
Black Republicans have long been vilified by other African-Americans. But Trump’s blistering attacks on the nation’s first African-American president, Barack Obama, made Haynes’ support even more curious.
He explained it this way:
“I judge him on his track record and public life. He has built an empire. His children are a model of success, and they exhibit our values, which are strong family, God and country and free enterprise, upward mobility and improve yourself.”
Clearly, Haynes — who once ran for governor of Montana and was inducted into the National Cowboys of Color Museum in 2008 — isn’t part of the demographic Trump targeted in his 75-minute acceptance speech, in which he said he would be the voice for the “ignored, neglected and abandoned.”
Bruce LeVell, who heads Trump’s National Diversity Coalition and is the owner of a jewelry store in Dunwoody, Ga., said that, going into the general election, the “jobs situation and illegal immigration is going to be tremendous as it relates to African-Americans.
“We haven’t been accountable to undocumented workers that are soaking up our resources and bleeding out our hospital systems which is affecting our African-American community as well as jobs,” LeVell said. “So Mr. Trump is going to make a huge splash as it relates to that policy that is going to really help create a lot of jobs, especially in the inner cities.”
Beside pointing out that “four in 10 African-American children are living in poverty” and 58 percent of African-American youth are unemployed, Trump didn’t offer any solutions.
Still, it would be a mistake for the Clinton campaign to bank on African-American group loyalty to the Democratic Party in this campaign.
“Look what is going on in the urban communities and blacks in this country,” said Joe Samuel, one of the black non-delegates at the convention.
“They have been lied to,” Samuel said. “They have been used. They have been taken for granted. Trump can do a better job. Hillary says she is down for black folks and talks about a village. Where is it? It can’t be here in America.”
Cynthia Werner, a delegate from Northlake, Texas, said she doesn’t believe Trump has to do anything more than he already is doing to win over more African-American voters.
“I see faces of color more in Mr. Trump’s campaign than I do — working, not volunteering — than I do in Hillary Clinton’s campaign,” she said.
In Illinois, similar sentiments gave Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner a surprising toehold in the African-American community and helped him to successfully defeat former Gov. Pat Quinn in 2014.
Going into this campaign, very few people thought Trump would triumph over 16 opponents, most of them seasoned politicians.
This coming week’s Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia will feature a prominent lineup of loyal African-American supporters. But after what I saw in Cleveland, I’m convinced it’s going to take a lot more than that for Clinton to keep Trump from sealing the deal in November.