Scene of Black students and Trump at Chick-fil-A may be more than meets the eye

“I don’t care what the media tells you, Mr. Trump. We support you," said Michaelah Montgomery, who hugged Trump during the recent stop in Atlanta.

Black Students Trump,
ATLANTA, GEORGIA - APRIL 10: Former U.S. President Donald Trump meets with people during a visit to a Chick-fil-A restaurant on April 10, 2024 in Atlanta, Georgia. Trump is visiting Atlanta for a campaign fundraising event he is hosting. (Photo by Megan Varner/Getty Images)

After former President Donald Trump greeted some young Black students during a Chick-fil-A visit in Atlanta, Democratic strategists are throwing cold water on any suggestions that the viral moment signals broader support for him among young Black voters. 

“I don’t think that changes the established norm that Donald Trump has an agenda that’s pretty hostile to Black folks overall,” Joel Payne, a Democratic strategist, told theGrio. “It doesn’t mean that every African-American voter will feel that way. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t outlier opinions that exist.”

On Wednesday, Trump dropped in at a Chick-fil-A restaurant near Atlanta’s prominent HBCUs: Spelman College, Morehouse College, Clark Atlanta University, and Morris Brown College. The Republican presidential candidate, who faces four criminal indictments – including one in Atlanta prosecuted by Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis – greeted the mostly young, Black customers and workers.

The former president, who purchased milkshakes for the young patrons, was met with smiles and glee, including from Michaelah Montgomery, who told him, “I don’t care what the media tells you, Mr. Trump, we support you.” Trump then offered to hug Montgomery, who later declared, “Tell my momma I made it!” 

According to her LinkedIn account, Montgomery graduated from Clark Atlanta in 2020 and is the founder of Conserve the Culture, a conservative grassroots group. She appeared to suggest to Fox News on Friday that the students at the Chick-fil-A were part of her organization.

Though the planned Trump visit (the Chick-fil-A chain is owned by one of his golf club members) garnered a lot of social media attention, political experts say it doesn’t change the facts about Trump’s standing with Black voters.

“I don’t want to overblow a minor viral moment inside of a Chick-fil-A in Atlanta and make it seem like … Donald Trump is winning Black people,” said Tolulope Kevin Olasanoye, executive director of the Democratic Party of Georgia. “He didn’t get a lot of Black people in 2020. He didn’t get that many Black people in 2016. He ain’t gonna get that many Black people in 2024.”

Though some polls last year indicated that Trump was gaining upwards of 22% among Black voters in key battleground states, a recent poll conducted by Pew Research Center found that only 12% of Black voters say they support the Republican Party. According to Pew, Trump earned 8% of the Black vote in 2020. 

However, several polls also indicate a decline in Black voter support for President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, primarily due to their feelings about the economy and the Biden-Harris administration’s foreign policy in support of Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza. 

“We’ve just got to be talking about this stuff in a real way that gets people to remind themselves about what the real record of the Trump presidency is [and] what the real record of the Biden presidency is,” said Olasanoye. 

Reecie Colbert, a political strategist and host of “The Reecie Colbert Show” on Sirius XM, told theGrio that while she doesn’t “begrudge” the excitement displayed toward Trump by some of the Black students in Atlanta, it may speak to a segment of young Black voters who are being “targeted by disinformation [and] misinformation.”

Former U.S. President Donald Trump meets employees during a visit to a Chick-fil-A restaurant on April 10, 2024, in Atlanta. (Photo by Megan Varner/Getty Images)

Some of that misinformation is coming from rap culture, said Colbert, who noted that Montgomery referred to the rapper Lil Baby’s song “4PF.”

“I think her referencing that kind of taps into some of these rappers who have been perpetuating this notion that Trump gave us stimmies [stimulus checks] and gave us money when the actual opposite is true,” she noted. “We saw Black businesses shutter, we saw Black unemployment surge, we saw a lot of Black wealth wiped out.” 

By contrast, said Colbert, during the Biden-Harris administration, which also issued stimulus checks through the American Rescue Plan two months into office, there has been a persistent record low Black unemployment and a significant comeback for small Black businesses

She added, “And don’t forget the fact that the child tax credit cut Black child poverty in half for the year that that was in existence.” 

Colbert said despite the numbers, there remains an “appeal” for Trump that perpetuates the “false idea that he was an economic boon for the country and Black people.”

There’s also the celebrity factor of Trump, noted Payne, who was the director of paid Black media for former Sen. Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential election. 

“There is something about fame that kind of washes over people, and that allows folks to either forget or to compartmentalize the other things that are there, and that’s something unique about Trump,” he said. “I think his fame and name brand do have some kind of an outsized impact on their view of him. But I think it would be unfair to characterize that as a quality only to Black voters.”

Payne said Democrats will have to “persuade” young Black voters rather than simply motivating them to “turn out” like in years past. 

“What’s more important to do is continue to put the case in front of large numbers of African-American voters, of young African-American voters, to remind them of the reality of what the Trump presidency was,” he said. “To remind them of things that they may have forgotten.”

“This is a party that stood in the way of young Black voters having student loans forgiven,” Olasanoye said of the Republican Party. “This is a party that doesn’t agree with the younger Black voters on climate justice.”

Trump, he argued, is not running an “issues-based campaign … by any stretch of the imagination.” He added, “I don’t believe what Donald Trump says, I believe what he does, and I think that Black people should do so too.”

Olasanoye said the challenge for Democrats is that “we’re not talking about this in a way that’s resonating with people, and particularly not with Black voters.” He continued, “We’ve got to do it fast because there’s only 207 days left until the most important election of our lifetimes.”

He added, “If we lose that election, it’s because we didn’t tell our own story. We have nobody to blame but ourselves.”

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