California businessman who Donald Trump dubbed 'my African American' leaves GOP

Gregory Cheadle, the Redding, Calif., businessman and perennial candidate who then-candidate Donald Trump dubbed "my African American" at a 2016 rally, has left the Republican party in part because of his disappointment with the president's approach to racial issues.

Cheadle, who is running in 2020 to represent California's 1st Congressional District in the House of Representatives, said multiple factors played into his decision, beginning with the president's attacks on former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick for kneeling during the National Anthem.

"I was really hurt (by that) because I was in favor of him taking the knee," Cheadle said. "The overwhelming majority of Republicans in my congressional district were against me, and that was disheartening because no one really gave a rip about the plight of blacks."

Gregory Cheadle volunteers recently at The Good News Rescue Mission in Redding.
Gregory Cheadle volunteers recently at The Good News Rescue Mission in Redding.

After hearing that the Trump administration had proposed cuts to Social Security and food stamps, Cheadle decided to change his party registration from Republican to independent about a month ago, he said.

And while Cheadle has several grievances with the president — highlighting his attacks against a group of Democratic congresswomen nicknamed "The Squad" and Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., in a PBS interview — he hasn't ruled out voting for Trump in 2020.

"Never say never," Cheadle said. "There's so much that can happen between now and then. For all I know, he could change his ways and start doing a lot for black people and people of color."

Cheadle said he's going to vote for whichever presidential candidate has the best platform.

"If Trump has it, he has it. If Cory Booker has it, he has it," Cheadle said, saying he has considered multiple options, including Sen. Booker, D-N.J., Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.

Cheadle hadn't always been a Republican, having joined the party after being disillusioned with the end of Bill Clinton's Democratic presidency. But his fame as a GOP-er came from a June 2016 rally in which Trump pointed him out in a heavily white crowd in Redding, Calif.

"Look at my African American over here. Look at him. Are you the greatest? You know what I'm talking about," Trump said.

At the time, Cheadle was thrilled, defending the quip in a CNN interview. Had it happened today, he said he might have responded differently.

"When you do things retrospectively, it's almost unfair," Cheadle said. "When that thing happened, everyone was laughing. I mean, it was funny. ... Since then, it's turned into a nightmare for me."

Cheadle said he questions the president's motivation for saying that, but stipulated that he is neither condemning nor condoning it.

'Trump's African-American': Gregory Cheadle flouts status with posts on NFL protest

Later, when Kaepernick was caught in the president's crosshairs, Cheadle said he was disappointed because it gave white supporters a way to ignore the criminal justice aspect of the quarterback's protest and make it about patriotism.

Cheadle said he doesn't think the president necessarily intends to be racially insensitive, but that he has a Eurocentric world view which filters certain issues through a "white superiority complex."

Cheadle indicated that some Republicans' resistance to change might keep them from breaking away from the party as he did.

"They're not strong enough to venture out and say, 'No, this is not what I'm about,'" he said. "Maybe, just maybe, my doing this will encourage people to step out — I don't care if they step out of the Democrat race or Republican race, but people (should) step out."

Cheadle, who will run as an independent against incumbent Rep. Doug LaMalfa, R-Calif., in 2020, said he was a little concerned that the decision to leave the GOP could upset Republicans in the Redding area.

"There will be a backlash," he said. "But hopefully, cooler minds will prevail."

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Matt Brannon covers politics, the criminal justice system and breaking news for the Record Searchlight. Follow him on Twitter @MattBrannon_RS. Support local coverage and keep up with the North State for as little as $1 a month. Subscribe today.

This article originally appeared on Redding Record Searchlight: Black Donald Trump supporter Gregory Cheadle leaves Republican Party