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Trump’s surrogates reached out to Black voters in Philly with cigars and cognac

The Biden campaign wasted no time blasting Trump's campaign for not having any Black Pennsylvanians speak at an earlier event.

U.S. Reps. Byron Donalds and Wesley Hunt toast their drinks during Congress, Cognac and Cigars at The Cigar Code in Philadelphia on Tuesday. They visited the city to help former President Donald Trump campaign with Black voters.
U.S. Reps. Byron Donalds and Wesley Hunt toast their drinks during Congress, Cognac and Cigars at The Cigar Code in Philadelphia on Tuesday. They visited the city to help former President Donald Trump campaign with Black voters.Read moreMonica Herndon / Staff Photographer

Former President Donald Trump’s campaign and some of his surrogates held two events Tuesday in Philadelphia aimed at engaging Black Philly voters — but it’s unclear how many got the message.

In the afternoon, the Trump campaign held its first public office opening in Philadelphia, an event labeled as part of a “Black Americans for Trump” initiative. The office, however, is in Northeast Philadelphia, one of the whitest and most conservative parts of Philly. Later, two Black congressmen who support Trump held a “Congress, Cognac, and Cigars” event near Northern Liberties to “garner the black male vote.”

The crowd at the office opening in a tight Holmesburg rowhouse, formerly an optometrist’s office, was diverse, but the census tract is 65% white, and the ward voted for Trump in 2020.

“To win a fight you have to go where the fish are,” U.S. Rep. Wesley Hunt (R., Texas), said outside of the office. “We’re going bravely where no Republicans have gone in decades, and we’re going directly to the community.”

Asked about the location for the event, a Trump team spokesperson noted the Northeast is rapidly diversifying and said the event was the first of many.

The events came less than a week after President Joe Biden visited Philadelphia to make his own pitch to Black voters. Trump has more support with Black voters, particularly with Black men nationally, than he did in 2020, according to polls, while Biden still leads with that demographic but not as decisively as he did four years ago.

Pennsylvania GOP Chairman Lawrence Tabas emceed the office opening from a podium with a sign that said “Black Americans for Trump,” and gave a shout-out to Republican candidates for office, including Senate GOP nominee Dave McCormick, attorney general nominee Dave Sunday, state Treasurer Stacey Garrity and Auditor General Tim DeFoor, none of whom were there.

The other speakers were Oz Sultan, a political consultant from Harlem, and Hunt, the featured guest.

“Black issues are American issues,” Hunt said. “We hate what’s happening at the border. We don’t like being unsafe … and the person who’s going to save the country from being on the brink is Donald John Trump.”

The Biden campaign wasted no time blasting the optics of not having any Black Pennsylvanians speak at the event and noted that Trump last week was convicted on 34 felony counts in a scheme to illegally influence the 2016 election through a hush money payment to a porn star.

“Donald Trump is a convicted felon who couldn’t find an actual Pennsylvanian to headline his phony event,” Pennsylvania coordinated campaign senior adviser Kellan White said. “He’s spent years running racist campaigns, implementing a racist agenda, and hurting Black communities every chance he got as president.”

Bringing in out-of-town surrogates is common on presidential campaigns — and many Trump allies are eager to help out as they also vie to be his running mate.

Cigars and Cognac

Hunt and his colleague U.S. Rep. Byron Donalds (R., Fla.) hosted the evening event at a cigar bar. In a discussion moderated by sports journalist Michele Tafoya, Hunt and Donalds discussed why Republicans struggle to promote conservatism in the Black community.

Black voters, they said, share Republicans’ values on issues like public safety and border security, but don’t trust the GOP because of previous generations’ politics.

”The reason why the Democrats have a hold on the Black community is because our parents’ parents’ parents keep telling us, ‘You gotta vote Democrat,’” Hunt said. “It is up to us in this generation to say, ‘Well, why?’”

The room was majority-Black, but about half of those who listed addresses on the event’s sign-in sheet put down addresses outside Philadelphia.

At one point during the discussion, Tafoya asked Donalds about the differences between how Black men and women view politics. (Polls have shown that Trump’s support among Black voters is largely among men.)

”First of all, there’s a difference between men and women anyway,” Donalds said. “Men have been created by god to be conquerors, to be hunters. That’s who they are. And so a Black man in today’s America is looking around and saying, ‘How can I go hunt for my people and hunt for my family?’ … They’re looking at what Joe Biden has done and saying, ‘I can’t hunt! You took my spear. You took my bow.’”

He said Black women may also turn against the Democratic Party due to issues like transgender rights and border.

“Black women,” he said, “are looking at their sons and saying, ‘Now, wait a minute. You’re telling me that my young son can become a girl? Nope. You’re telling me that my son and my daughter who need an education now have to go and be less than because of illegal immigrants in the city of Philadelphia? Nope.’”

At another point, Donalds said he is starting to see the “reinvigoration of Black family,” which he described as younger people forming nuclear family units and “helping to breathe the revival of a Black middle class in America.” He went on to say that those family values had previously been eroded by Democratic policies that Black voters embraced after becoming loyal to the party due to the Civil Rights Movement.

“You see, during Jim Crow, the Black family was together. During Jim Crow, more Black people were not just conservative — Black people have always been conservative-minded — but more Black people voted conservatively,” he said. “And then H.E.W., Lyndon Johnson — you go down that road, and now we are where we are,” he added, referring to the former U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare.

The so-called Great Society programs, spearheaded by former President Lyndon Johnson in the 1960s, included civil rights legislation, the creation of Medicaid for low-income Americans, and the expansion of federal food stamp, welfare, and housing programs.

A battle for Black voters in Philadelphia

The cigar series, which will include events in other cities, debuted in Philadelphia a week after Biden launched a Black Voters for Biden coalition at Girard College in Philadelphia last week.

With five months until the general election, Trump leads Biden narrowly in most polling of the critical state. Biden’s campaign has blanketed Pennsylvania with two dozen offices, and the president has visited seven times this year.

Trump, along with the Republican National Committee and the state party, is just starting to set up a footprint in Pennsylvania.

Akbar Muslim, 61, a retired floor layer from West Oak Lane, attended the Trump office opening. Muslim, who is Black, said he thinks more Black voters are warming up to Trump because they are frustrated with the economy and upset by Trump’s felony conviction.

“He’s getting persecuted. Black people get that,” Muslim said. “We feel we’ve been persecuted ... But it’s also about who is gonna put more food on your table and make your bills cheaper? A lot of us feel elite Democrats don’t live in the real world.”

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly described who hosted the Cigars and Cognac event. It was held by U.S. Rep. Wesley Hunt (R., Texas).