TH Caucus coveragePresident Donald Trump isn’t a racist. Just ask him. He will tell you.

“I am the least racist person there is anywhere in the world,” he told reporters at the White House.

That’s a statement that doesn’t sound like it is to be taken seriously by anyone except perhaps his mostly white and very conservative support base as a signal that he’s not about to be pushed around by what he calls “political correctness” — and I call common courtesy.

Lately, as the president might say, “a lot of people have been talking about” whether Trump is racist or just playing one on TV. Allegations about Trump’s racism, as a Google search will quickly reveal, go back to his early days as a rising New York real estate developer and ravenous publicity hound in the 1970s.

But his latest self-promotion as “least racist” of all of the planet’s 7.5 billion people comes after a couple of weeks of tweets and sound bites that are loaded with racist tropes and stereotypes against certain lawmakers of color.

First, he called on four progressive Democratic congresswomen of color to “go back” to the “totally broken and crime infested places” they came from. In fact, all four lawmakers are American citizens. Three were even born in the U.S., but Trump isn’t about to let stubborn facts get in the way of a good rant.

More recently, he targeted Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., calling him a “racist” and declaring the black congressman should return to take care of his Baltimore district, which Trump described as “disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess.”

That’s another way of saying “Go back to where you came from,” as if Cummings’ job description includes pest control.

Trump sounds a lot more agitated by Cummings’ real job as chair of the House Oversight Committee, which currently includes oversight of whether Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, and her husband, Jared Kushner, illegally used private email and text message accounts for official purposes.

Because it is quite late in the game to try reaching for votes beyond his base, it is no big surprise that Trump might find it easier to light emotional fires under his old supporters than to try to win new ones.

It is also apparently easier to make up black support in his head than to produce evidence to back it up. “The African American people have been calling the White House,” he said last week. “They have never been so happy about what a president has done.”

Right. Never mind that new Quinnipiac poll that asked quite simply, “Do you think President Trump is racist?” About half, 51%, of the voters surveyed said yes. The breakdown: 46% of whites taking part in the survey said yes, 55% of Hispanics and 80% of African Americans.

If Trump thinks demonizing black leaders is enough, his scheme could backfire by enraging and motivating other voters of color to turn out in larger numbers against him on Election Day.

Trump might be doing Democrats a big favor by reminding them about what may be the least-appreciated cause of Hillary Clinton’s electoral loss in 2016: Black voters who didn’t show up to vote — especially in the pivotal swing states of the upper Midwest, which Barack Obama won twice before she lost them.

In 2016, only four years after a record black turnout helped re-elect President Obama, the black turnout rate for Hillary Clinton plunged — falling to roughly 60% in 2016 from a record high of nearly 67% in 2012, according to the Pew Research Center.

Those stay-at-homes could have made a big difference for Clinton. Trump won Michigan, for example, by only 10,700 votes out of more than 4.5 million cast. Similar stories of black falloff and white conservative surges unfolded in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, among others.

A New York Times analysis last year found that while 9% of Obama 2012 voters went for Trump in 2016, 7% — or more than 4 million missing voters — stayed home. And 3% voted for a third-party candidate.

So the best way for Democrats to beat Trump’s strategy might be to motivate their own base to show up and vote. If they wonder why, all they have to do is remember the campaign trips to Michigan and Wisconsin that Clinton did not make before Trump won both states.

Democrats don’t need to pander or go overboard with impossible or divisive promises such as slavery reparations. They just need to show their own support base and persuadable independents that all of their votes matter. In fact, they do.

Recipient of the Pulitzer Prize in 1989, Page is a Chicago Tribune columnist and Editorial Board member. He entered the Chicago Journalism Hall of Fame in 1992. His email address is cpage@chicagotribune.com.

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