Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Donald Trump has overpromised and underdelivered.
The Trump campaign has scrapped plans for a high-profile press conference on Monday, which it had earlier suggested would feature a group of 100 black pastors and religious leaders endorsing the GOP front-runner following a private meeting in New York City. Now the meeting will just be an “informational meet-and-greet,” per the Trump campaign, and will be closed to the press.
The shift happened after many of the invitees made it clear that they had no plans to endorse Trump despite what his camp was telling reporters last week.
“The meeting was presented not as a meeting to endorse but as a meeting to engage in dialogue,” Clarence E. McClendon, a Los Angeles pastor, explained on Facebook, adding that he wouldn’t be attending the event. Another invitee, Detroit preacher Corletta Vaughn, was less subtle about her feelings, using her Facebook account to call Trump an “insult and embarrassment.” Separately, more than 100 black religious leaders who were not invited published an open letter in Ebony magazine blasting Trump for his rhetoric and warning their fellow religious leaders that the meeting would give Trump the “appearance of legitimacy” among their followers. “Mr. Trump will use that legitimacy to gain Black political support, while using that support to govern in a way that harms Black communities,” they wrote.
Trump has held several meeting with black religious groups this year—though he has repeatedly undercut his own efforts to broaden his appeal by opening his mouth. Most recently, he suggested that a black activist who had been pushed to the ground, kicked, and punched by several of his supporters at an Alabama rally this month “deserved it,” and later tweeted out bogus, racist crime stats that erroneously suggested blacks were responsible for the majority of white homicides.
On Monday, Trump offered his own theory for why he appears to be losing endorsements he never had in the first place. “Probably some of the Black Lives Matter folks called them up and said, ‘Oh, you shouldn’t be meeting with Trump because he believes all lives matter,’ ” he said Monday on MSNBC’s Morning Joe. Shortly after, his campaign offered a different explanation, calling the whole thing an unfortunate mix-up. "It’s a coalition meeting. Some of these pastors were not going to be endorsing to begin with,” spokeswoman Katrina Pierson told CNN. “Now if the campaign had said that some of them won’t be endorsing, it just was—it was way too confusing.”
This isn’t the first time that Trump’s camp has had to cry miscommunication while attempting to do damage control after offending a specific demographic group that he nonetheless claims he never offended. Following the xenophobic and anti-immigrant start to his campaign, Trump made plans in September to sit down with a high-profile Hispanic group in Washington to mend fences. When it became clear that meeting was unlikely to go as smoothly as Trump hoped, though, he bailed on the event and claimed that he had never agreed to attend in the first place—despite previous comments that left little doubt that he had. (More generally, he also has a long history of remembering things one way while the person he was talking to remembers them quite differently. You tell him you quit, he hears himself saying you’re fired; you tell him to tone it down, he hears you say keep it up.)
Still, and despite all evidence to the contrary, Trump remains convinced that he’s incredibly popular with the black community. “I think I’m going to win the African-American vote,” he said Saturday at a campaign rally in Florida. “I think I’m going to do great with the African-American vote.”