Trump suggests his mug shot and indictments appeal to Black voters

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Former President Donald Trump suggested Friday that his criminal indictments and mug shot appeal to Black voters and claimed that “what’s happening to (him) happens to them.”

“I got indicted for nothing, for something that is nothing. They were doing it because it’s election interference and then I got indicted a second time, and a third time and a fourth time. And a lot of people said that that’s why the Black people like me because they have been hurt so badly and discriminated against, and they actually viewed me as I’m being discriminated against,” Trump, who faces 91 criminal charges across the cases, told a gathering of Black conservatives here, on the eve of the state’s first-in-the-South Republican presidential primary.

Black conservatives, Trump told the crowd gathered for the gala hosted by the Black Conservative Federation, “understand better than most that some of the greatest evils in our nation’s history have come from corrupt systems that try to target and subjugate others to deny them their freedom and to deny them their rights. You understand that. I think that’s why the Black people are so much on my side now because they see what’s happening to me happens to them.”

The GOP front-runner also claimed that Black Americans have “embraced” his mug shot more than anyone else.

“The mug shot, we’ve all seen the mug shot, and you know who embraced it more than anybody else? The Black population. It’s incredible. You see Black people walking around with my mug shot, you know they do shirts,” he said.

Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, Trump’s last remaining major rival for the GOP nomination, told reporters Saturday that she found the former president’s remarks “disgusting.”

“That’s the chaos that comes with Donald Trump. That’s the offensiveness that’s going to happen every day between now and the general election, which is why I continue to say Donald Trump cannot win a general election. He won’t,” she said after voting in the South Carolina primary.

Haley’s campaign manager told CNN earlier Friday that the former president’s indictment remark shows why Americans do not “want a Trump-Biden rematch” in November.

“This is just more of the same chaos, more of the same drama, more of the same baggage,” Betsy Ankney said during an interview with CNN’s Laura Coates.

Haley has vowed to stay in the race past the South Carolina primary and through Super Tuesday on March 5, but Trump has won every delegate contest so far and holds a wide lead over Haley in pre-primary polling in her own home state.

Trump, who has a history of using racist language, railed during his remarks against President Joe Biden, his likely general election rival, accusing him of being a “vicious racist.”

He attacked Biden over the 1994 crime bill – which Biden has repeatedly defended his role in but has also pointed to mistakes in the legislation – and over comments the president made in which he recalled working with segregationist senators.

“On top of everything else, Joe Biden really has proven to be a very nasty and vicious racist. He’s been a racist,” Trump said.

In a statement following Trump’s remarks, Jasmine Harris, the Black media director for the Biden campaign, called the former president “an incompetent, anti-Black tyrant,” noting his meeting with a White nationalist shortly after declaring his 2024 candidacy.

Prior to the event, Biden’s campaign had put out a statement calling Trump “the proud poster boy for modern racism.” It detailed what it described as his “racist record,” which included his role in the Central Park Five case and his promotion of the “birtherism” conspiracy theory that targeted former President Barack Obama.

“Come November, no matter how many disingenuous voter engagement events he attends, Black Americans will show Donald Trump we know exactly who he is,” Harris said.

Biden said in July 2020 that Trump, who has on multiple occasions used racist dog whistles to attack his political rivals, was the first racist to win the presidency. Earlier this week, the president referenced having served with segregationist senators, while saying Republicans in Congress are “worse” than Strom Thurmond, a former South Carolina senator who ran for president as a segregationist in 1948.

Trump at one point Friday appeared to make a joke about only seeing the Black people in the dark room where the gala was being held.

“These lights are so bright in my eyes that I can’t see too many people out there. But I can only see the Black ones, I can’t see any White ones, you see, that’s how far I’ve come. That’s how far I’ve come. That’s a long way, isn’t it? These lights. We’ve come a long way together,” he said as the crowd laughed.

This story has been updated with additional information.

CNN’s Ebony Davis contributed to this report.

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