NEW YORK – Donald Trump signals he wants to hold a major campaign rally at New York’s Madison Square Garden featuring black athletes and hip-hop artists. His aides talk of Trump appearing in Chicago, Detroit and Atlanta accompanied by non-white leaders and realigning American politics by flipping Democratic constituencies.

But five months before the first general election votes are cast, the former president’s campaign has little apparent organization to show for its ambitious plans.

His campaign removed the person in charge of coalitions and has not announced a replacement. Republican Party outreach offices for minorities across the country were closed and replaced by businesses that include a check cashing store, an ice cream shop and a sex toy store. Campaign officials acknowledge that they are weeks away from implementing any programs toward specific targets.

The presumptive Republican presidential nominee has had difficulty navigating a messy transition to the November election, plagued by hiring problems, personal legal problems and the Make America Great Again (MAGA) movement’s disdain for “identity politics.” There are signs of frustration over the issue, where Republicans believe Trump has a real chance to reduce Democratic President Joe Biden’s advantages among non-white voters.

“To be honest, the Republican Party doesn’t have a cohesive turnout plan for black communities,” said Darrell Scott, a black pastor and longtime Trump ally and co-founder of the National Diversity Coalition for Trump in 2016. “What you have are conservatives in non-white communities that we’ve taken it upon ourselves to spearhead our own initiatives.”

Organizing in those areas has long been a hallmark of successful presidential campaigns, which typically invest enormous resources to identify potential supporters and ensure they vote. The task may be even more critical this fall, given how few voters are enthusiastic about a rematch between Biden and Trump.

But in Michigan, a pivotal state that flipped from Trump to Biden four years ago, several party officials confirmed that the Republican National Committee (RNC), reformed by Trump allies after he clinched the nomination in March, has yet to establish community centers to reach out to minorities. Office space to house the centers was offered by community members, but getting staff has been a problem, said Vance Patrick, chairman of the Oakland County Republican Party.

“We have all these carts, but we don’t have horses yet,” Patrick commented. “So it’s all about making sure we have the staff when we open these offices.”

In Wayne County, to which Detroit belongs, local Republican officials say they’re trying to figure it out on their own.

“I’m the one who organizes events or people just come to me,” detailed Rola Makki, vice chairwoman of outreach for the Michigan Republican Party, noting that she hasn’t seen any minority outreach centers open despite Trump’s national campaign team’s claims to the contrary.

In recent years, the RNC invested heavily in minority outreach and community centers based on the belief that real relationships with voters, even those who don’t normally support Republicans, would make a difference on Election Day. Since taking control of the Republican National Committee in the spring, however, Trump’s team has dramatically scaled back those efforts.

“Traditionally, Republicans have not been effective in their efforts to persuade black and Hispanic voters to vote for our party,” said Lynne Patton, a senior campaign adviser who oversees coalitions work and who has worked closely with the Trump family for decades. “But this is yet another reason why President Trump insisted that his hand-picked leadership team take control of the RNC and lead a unified effort to embrace the historic defection from the Democratic Party that is being witnessed within the black and Hispanic communities and ensure that it is permanent.”

The campaign hired a national coalitions director last October. But the staffer, Derek Silver, left in March without explanation, according to two people familiar with the matter, who spoke on condition of anonymity to share internal discussions. Silver did not respond to multiple requests for comment. No replacement has been announced.

Trump advisers reject criticism that they don’t organize or spend enough to reach out to minorities. James Blair, the campaign’s political director, said the campaign won’t “broadcast” its spending or staffing levels, “but I assure them it is enough to ensure that the historic surge in support for President Trump among black and Hispanic voters is sustained in November and beyond.”

Patton said Trump’s political team lays the groundwork for a strong outreach program for minorities, albeit largely in private.

“We’re talking to black leaders, we’re talking to small business owners, we’re talking to famous athletes, hip-hop artists, some of whom I think you’d be surprised if you knew who was talking to us right now,” Patton maintained in an interview. “These are people who are expressing their openness to supporting President Trump both publicly and privately.”

He added that the campaign is weeks away from implementing specific programs. The delayed timeline contrasts sharply with the early outreach during Trump’s 2020 reelection bid. He kicked off his coalition efforts, including the “Latinos for Trump” and “Black Voices for Trump” programs, in the summer and fall of 2019, respectively.

Trump’s team insists he will improve his standing among non-white voters, perhaps the strongest segment of the Democratic base, regardless of strategy. Advisers believe the campaign has momentum among both African Americans and Latinos, especially younger men, and note that Trump has shown he can win his way, regardless of the traditional rules of politics.

Polls show that many black and Latino adults are unhappy with Biden. According to polls by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, Biden’s approval among black adults has fallen from 94% when he began his term to 55% in March. Among Latino adults, it fell from 70% to 32% in the same period.

An April survey by the Pew Research Center confirms that the problem is especially acute among younger adults. In this survey, 43% of black adults under 50 said they approve of Biden, compared with 70% of those over 50. Among Latinos, 29% of younger adults said they approve of him, lower than the 42% who said the same among those 50 and older.

The Trump campaign’s evolving outreach strategy relies on using his celebrity and flamboyant personality to create viral moments in non-white communities that his advisers believe will have more impact than grassroots organizing or paid advertising alone. Advisers point to Trump’s appearances at an Atlanta Chick-fil-A, a neighborhood convenience store and a police officer’s wake in New York City as examples of the strategy.

His allies argue that increased frustration over crime, inflation and immigration may win over some nonwhite voters who have previously been less receptive to Trump’s divisive record and rhetoric.

“Non-white communities don’t lean right, they lean Trump,” said Scott, the pastor and close Trump ally who is calling on the RNC to step up and reform its efforts. Scott added that black voters support Democrats because of the party’s longstanding outreach to the community, which the GOP has not matched, and opined that the 2024 election presents an opportunity the party should not squander. “Trump is the draw; Trump is the magnet.”

Biden has spent millions of dollars on ads targeting black and Latino voters in key states. That’s in addition to opening dozens of new offices in minority neighborhoods. Meanwhile, Biden’s team has frequently sent Vice President Kamala Harris, the nation’s first black female vice president, and other prominent non-white leaders there.

The Democratic president’s campaign points to record minority unemployment rates and education policies – such as funding for historically black colleges and universities and student loan forgiveness – as well as Biden’s stance on civil rights policy.

“For Donald Trump and MAGA Republicans to proudly admit that they have no real strategy to reach black voters because they believe all they need are rap concerts and free chicken is only surprising if you haven’t paid attention to Trump’s fraudulent relationship with black America for years,” said Jasmine Harris, black media director for the Biden campaign, who described Trump as “a fraud” who “takes every opportunity at his disposal to demean our community.”

Following the publication of this article, Patton responded to the Biden campaign’s criticism.

“No one proudly admits to a ‘no plan’ plan. That is simply a desperate deflection by a deeply blue (Democratic) party that is hemorrhaging black and brown voters because of destructive immigration policies and billions in foreign aid that continues to leave American minorities last,” Patton said. “To the contrary, we are rolling out the largest comprehensive and strategic coalition effort the Republican Party has ever undertaken and have detailed that plan to key surrogates, grassroots allies and even the media with great reception.”

Trump’s personal legal problems are perhaps complicating his plans.

Officials in his campaign believe they should wait to file new initiatives until the conclusion of the criminal trial against Trump over payments to silence a porn actress in New York, which is expected to stretch well into May, if not longer.

Meanwhile, there are visible signs of a lack of investment in swing states. AP reporters visited the headquarters of several former community outreach centers that have been closed.

In Allentown, Pennsylvania, the Republican Party abandoned its Hispanic outreach office in January 2023, a few months after the midterm elections, according to Hem Vaidya, the owner. He said the office, which he remembered as a busy place, was staffed by Latino workers.

Republican officials recently approached him to propose renting the same space again, but he declined because they only wanted it for eight months. The street-facing space is now occupied by his own check-cashing business.

In Wisconsin, the RNC closed a Latino outreach center in Milwaukee after the 2022 midterm elections and will soon house an ice cream shop, according to Daniel Walsh, leasing agent for the property.

Matt Fisher, a spokesman for the Republican Party of Wisconsin, said the state GOP still operates an outreach center for the black community in Milwaukee. As for targeting Latino voters, the state party and the RNC are still weighing how to approach that task.

In suburban Atlanta, an RNC community outreach center focused on reaching Asian-American voters was closed and later reopened as a sex toy store. AP reporters confirmed the change in ownership of the location, which was originally reported by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution newspaper.

Republican strategist Alice Stewart, a veteran of several GOP campaigns, said she is confident the Trump campaign will eventually do what is necessary.

“But the key is that they can’t just talk about outreach to minorities,” she explained. “They have to do it.”

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