Donald Trump ranted about "the blacks" — declaring they wouldn't vote for him despite the fact he'd done "all this stuff for" them — and blamed his son-in-law for making him look "weak" during last year's Black Lives Matter protests, a new book has claimed.
In an excerpt of his forthcoming book, Frankly, We Did Win This Election: The Inside Story of How Trump Lost, Wall Street Journal reporter Michael Bender writes that the former president's reaction to the aftermath of George Floyd's murder marked the beginning of the end of his re-election hopes.
While the 74-year-old leaned into "law and order" themes during his 2016 campaign, he felt that the criminal justice reform bill he signed in December 2018 — a move that was heavily encouraged by his daughter Ivanka's husband, Jared Kushner — "made him look weak and — even worse — hadn't earned him any goodwill among black voters", Bender wrote.
"When most Americans rejected Trump's unreasonably truculent response to the civil unrest that was sweeping the country, the President also blamed Kushner", he added.
"As protesters poured into the streets of the nation's capital and major municipalities, Trump privately told advisers that he wished he'd been quicker to support police and more aggressive in his pushback against protesters."
The absence of support led Trump to complain on Father's Day to a confidante that he had "done all this stuff for the blacks — it's always Jared telling me to do this ... and they all f***ing hate me, and none of them are going to vote for me," he said, according to Bender.
Trump's 'surprising' reaction to George Floyd's death
The former leader was also supposedly more sympathetic to Floyd behind closed doors and more critical of the police who killed him — despite taking the opposite stance every time he was in public.
While he didn't watch the video of Floyd's murder on the day it went viral, when he did — surrounded by Kushner, his media team, and other senior White House officials — Trump "contorted his face as he watched" and "looked repulsed, then turned away".
"This is f***ing terrible," he said, according to Bender.
"I know these f***ing cops. They can get out of control sometimes. They can be rough."
His reaction to the video "struck some in the room as surprisingly critical of police, and the President showed a level of empathy for Floyd behind closed doors that he would never fully reveal in public", Bender wrote.
"Had he tried, it might have helped dial down the tension. But Trump didn't see it as part of his job to show empathy, and he worried that such a display would signal weakness to his base," he said.
"Trump's compassion quickly evaporated that night as he watched demonstrators torch a Minneapolis police station, and the protests spread to New York City; Denver; Phoenix; Columbus, Ohio; and Memphis, Tennessee."
"These THUGS are dishonouring the memory of George Floyd," the President tweeted on his now-defunct Twitter account. "When the looting starts, the shooting starts. Thank you!"
Within a month of Floyd's May 25 death, Trump was "dumping on his son-in-law, and he was also abandoning the chance to improve his relationship with black leaders and black voters during a particularly tumultuous moment in US race relations and the presidential campaign".
Juneteenth Tulsa rally marked 'beginning of the end'
Bender's book also reveals Trump's tone-deaf call to hold his first rally of the coronavirus pandemic in Tulsa, Oklahoma — the site of the single worst incident of racial violence in America history — on Juneteenth, the date that marks the end of slavery in the US.
While nobody on his campaign team flagged the location or date could be problematic, staffers at the Republican National Committee warned that the media and the Democrats wouldn't give the President "the benefit of the doubt" and urged him not to forge ahead.
"Don't do this," RNC Chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel warned Trump's campaign manager, Brad Parscale. "The media is not going to give us the benefit of the doubt, especially now."
The pleas fell on deaf ears — and when Trump decided to go ahead with the rally, eventually changing the date to the following day, it showed not just that he "couldn't be more insensitive to the world erupting all around him" but that he "was also impaired by his stunning disregard for history".
When he finally took to the stage in Tulsa, to an arena that was two-thirds empty, he urged his audience to forget the past several months, seeking a fresh start for his re-election bid.
"So we begin, Oklahoma," he told the crowd. "We begin. We begin our campaign."
"But the truth was, the campaign had begun long ago," Bender wrote of the moment. "What was actually beginning now, for Trump, was the end."