Donald Trump has begun making direct appeals to African-American voters this week, promising to deliver them a "much better future" if they take a chance on his candidacy and abandon Democrats who have "failed and betrayed" them.
A 40-minute speech in West Bend, Wis., marked the first time the Republican presidential nominee had laid out such a forceful argument for why his economic agenda and commitment to restoring law and order will benefit black voters in their communities and reduce poverty, crime and the racial wealth gap.
"To every voter in Milwaukee, to every voter living in the inner city, I am running to offer you a much better future, a much better job and a much higher wage," he said.
But in the room where Trump made his first pitch to African-Americans, those listening were mostly white. "I said to myself, 'He gave a darn good speech tonight, but what is this going to do?'" recalled a source who worked for the Trump campaign up until the general election.
Recent polls of black voters have shown Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton carrying an 80-something-point lead over Trump nationally. Back-to-back surveys of registered voters in Ohio and Pennsylvania found Trump drawing zero percent support among African-American respondents in mid-July. In some cases, Green Party nominee Jill Stein and Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson are both polling better than Trump.
"He is on track to get the lowest percentage of the non-white vote for a Republican presidential candidate in the history of exit polling," Republican pollster Whit Ayres, who has written extensively about the GOP's lack of outreach to minorities, told the Washington Examiner.
Ayres declined to predict whether Trump's sudden appeal to black voters will earn him their consideration, saying only that the candidate "has basically spent 15 months denigrating one minority after another."
"Some see it as too little too late," said Tara Wall, a communications professional who served as Mitt Romney's liaison to the black community in 2012 and helped George W. Bush reach black voters in 2000 and 2004. "He's already alienated such a large swath that it's going to be really hard to recapture that."
Before last week, Trump has mainly courted controversy on issues pertaining to minority voters.
He declined to immediately disavow former KKK Grand Wizard David Duke during a CNN interview in February, claimed in June that a federal judge's Mexican heritage made him too biased and skipped the NAACP's national conference in July (due to its overlap with the GOP convention, a campaign official later said). Black protesters and white Trump supporters have clashed at his rallies. Trump was repeatedly accused of stoking racial tension.
But now that those advising Trump have seen where he stands among black voters in polls against Clinton, his failure to reach black voters has become an issue they're working diligently to fix.
"I am now looking at opportunities for Mr. Trump to get in front of key partners in the African-American community, particularly civil rights groups and faith groups, particularly historically black colleges and universities," Omarosa Manigault, a former "Celebrity Apprentice" contestant who signed on to be Trump's director of African-American outreach, recently told the New York Times.
Wall appeared to endorse that plan, claiming that Trump will do worse among African-Americans than Romney did in 2012 — he garnered 6 percent of the black vote to Obama's 93 percent — if he doesn't deploy surrogates to, or visit heavily-black neighborhoods himself.
"The question is what is he doing at a state level, in places like Georgia, Ohio, North Carolina and Michigan?" she said. "He's got to be in those areas regularly because when people really start paying attention to the election after Labor Day, those are the states where voters will want to know if he's been there speaking to the issues that black Americans face."
If Trump does travel to urban areas or impoverished communities where black voters feel their challenges have fallen on deaf ears, he could begin to move the needle, said Gianno Caldwell, a black Republican analyst and Washington-based communications consultant.
"Blacks are very forgiving people and when someone shows empathy, like Trump did the other night in North Carolina, that is a significant step toward healing from the previous remarks he's made that people personally offended," Caldwell told the Examiner.
Trump is also running against a career politician who has campaigned for black voters only because she needs them not because she intends to serve their interests, Caldwell said, adding that "black lives don't matter to Hillary Clinton, black votes matter to Hillary Clinton."
A week after he outlined his economic agenda in Detroit, during which he spoke about the socioeconomic challenges black Americans face, Trump returned to Michigan on Friday for a second go-around. This time, he predicted they would not only help him make it to the Oval Office, but choose to keep him around if he does.
"By the end of four years, I guarantee I will get over 95 percent of the African-American vote," Trump confidently declared.