In Dallas, Trump to talk race relations and policing ahead of $10M fundraising dinner

Dallas News

WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump plans a conversation about race relations and policing Thursday in Dallas, where he’ll also announce a plan for “holistic revitalization and recovery” during a trip built around a high-dollar fundraising dinner expected to bring in $10 million.

It’s his first campaign foray since the COVID-19 pandemic began three months ago.

Ahead of the dinner, the president and several senior administration officials “will participate in a roundtable with faith leaders, law enforcement officials, and small business owners to discuss solutions to historic economic, health, and justice disparities in American communities,” the White House said Wednesday.

The event will take place at a Dallas church. The White House has not yet disclosed the site or the attendance list.

The visit comes at a moment of uncertainty over Texas’ political direction, with polls showing Trump in a fight to hang onto a state that Republicans haven’t lost since 1976.

Like other cities, Dallas has been rocked by fallout from the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, and by economic setbacks related to the pandemic.

Trump has inserted himself into the local conversation on both fronts to a surprising degree.

When Dallas salon owner Shelley Luther defied state, county and court orders to remain closed during the outbreak, the president took the rare and probably unprecedented step of weighing in on a local judicial election – urging Dallas voters to oust state District Judge Eric Moyé for tossing Luther in jail for contempt of court.

With protests after the Floyd killing roiling the country, Trump invoked a bizarre confrontation in Dallas involving a man with a machete to justify sending federal troops to quell protests. The man menaced protesters with his blade, and they beat him. Trump depicted the protesters, without evidence, as members of “antifa,” a loose network of left-wing militants.

On Monday, Trump held a similar roundtable at the White House with the head of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the police chief in Buffalo Grove, Ill., and others, including the president of the Fraternal Order of Police, the nation’s largest police union.

Top advisors at that event included Vice President Mike Pence, Attorney General Bill Barr, the president’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, who has spearheaded the administration’s criminal justice agenda, and Brooke Rollins, the new director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, who previously led the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative think tank in Austin.

The dinner, at an undisclosed private home, is expected to include about 25 guests, according to campaign officials. For $580,600, two people can dine with the president and get their picture taken with him, according to an invitation obtained by The Dallas Morning News.

Some couples will pay twice as much. Under current campaign rules, any individual can give up to $580,600 to Trump Victory, a partnership between the reelection campaign, the Republican National Committee and 22 state parties.

A similar event is planned Saturday at the president’s golf club in Bedminster, N.J. He’s scheduled to deliver a commencement address at West Point that afternoon.

“Any time the president comes to town it’s a good thing,” said state Rep. Matt Shaheen, R-Plano. “It fires up the base.”

Presidents have routinely included an “official” element in campaign travel, allowing them to tap into taxpayer funds to subsidize the substantial costs of Air Force One and presidential security.

Trump Victory will cover costs of the COVID-19 testing for dinner guests, who will also be screened by personnel from the White House Medical Unit.

Texas Democrats called the event seamy, given unrest in the wake of a Minneapolis police killing – the victim, George Floyd, was buried Tuesday in Houston – along with widespread unemployment and an ongoing pandemic with a death toll that now tops 111,000 in the United States, which accounts for more than one in four coronavirus deaths globally.

“Right now, Trump appears to be more toxic than his usual fairly toxic self. His response to the coronavirus in hard hit communities of color has been awful. And now he is furthering his authoritarian ways with his full-throated support of police violence against Black Lives Matter supporters,” said Matt Barreto, co-founder of Latino Decisions, a polling company.

It’s unclear if Trump will discuss the possibility of moving the party’s nominating convention to Dallas during the visit.

Dallas was among a half-dozen cities RNC officials considered since North Carolina’s governor refused to commit to a full-size event while the risk of contagion remains so high. But Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins and Mayor Eric Johnson, both Democrats, also cite public health restrictions. Jenkins ruled out an event that big, and reportedly, the RNC has tentatively settled on Jacksonville, Fla.

RNC chairwoman Ronna McDaniel, who’ll be with the president in Dallas, said Tuesday that a site decision will be announced next week.

Trump has been eager to return to the stump.

He indicated Tuesday that he may hold a rally as soon as next week. That would be his first since Feb. 28 in Charleston, S.C., when he called growing warnings of a looming coronavirus crisis a Democratic “hoax.” At the time, the United States had 59 confirmed cases and two deaths.

In recent weeks, Trump has visited four battleground states – Arizona, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Florida – official business, touring factories making protective masks, for instance, and observing the historic SpaceX rocket launch.

The White House, framing the discussion planned for Dallas, cited “historic lows in minority unemployment, criminal justice reform, increasing school choice,” and support for Opportunity Zones to improve economic development in neglected communities, and for “Project Safe Neighborhoods to reduce violent crime in communities all around the country. Thanks to these efforts and support from law enforcement, both the violent crime rate and murder rate in America has fallen for two consecutive years.”

“He will also hear from national and local leaders about ways the private and public sector can work together to uplift our most vulnerable communities. The United States of America is known for its resilience and strength, and together, we can all be a part of the great American Comeback,” the White House said.

During previous Dallas visits, Trump has been greeted warmly by supporters – and by heckling protesters. In October 2017, chants of “liar, liar” and “Go home Cheeto” rang out downtown as he collected $4 million from donors.

Ed Espinoza, executive director of Progress Texas, said activists considered throwing Trump an “unwelcome reception” on Thursday, but “there are just so many huge issues right now. Everybody’s been focused on local reforms and Black Lives Matter. And social distancing, to the extent we can still keep to it, we’re still trying to.”

He noted the Trump campaign’s habit of stiffing host cities for security costs at campaign events.

In April, the Center for Public Integrity issued a report tallying $1.82 million the Trump campaign still owes to 14 cities, including $569,000 that El Paso wants from a rally in February 2019.

“I would hope whatever entity is hosting him has not foolishly given him a pass on paying his bills in advance, because he doesn’t have a very good record on that,” Espinoza said.

Trump has friends in Dallas, including investor Tommy Hicks Jr., co-chair of the RNC and a close friend of Donald Trump Jr. Hicks is co-hosting the dinner.

Dallas businessman Roy Bailey, the national finance co-chairman for the Trump Victory Campaign, said last month that Texas supporters are excited about the visit: “He wants to be out there and he knows Texas is friendly and full of great supporters.”

But Dallas is not Trump country.

Hillary Clinton beat Trump 61-35 in the county even as he collected 52% statewide.

The city’s most prominent Republican, former President George W. Bush, has mostly steered clear of politics since leaving office but the mutual disdain between him and Trump isn’t much of a secret. In a breach of tradition, Trump has never reached out for advice even on critical national security matters, or at times of tragedy when presidents often enlist elder statesmen.

North Texas has become ground zero for a political rumble that could reverberate from the statehouse to the White House.

Democrats see the area as a place to pad their majority in Congress, after gain ground needed to seize the Texas House. Republicans lost North Texas legislative seats in 2018, along with a congressional district held for decades by Republican Pete Sessions.

Demographic shifts have strongly favored Democrats.

Barreto noted that in 2016 and 2018, Democrats gained ground thanks to higher Hispanic and black turnout, and a declining share of the white vote for Republicans. With public approval ratings at levels not seen by a president since Jimmy Carter, the perception that he draws more protesters than supporters wouldn’t help, Barreto added.

Trump remains polarizing – still popular with his diehard base but losing ground with suburban women and others who put him over the top in 2016.

Recent polls show former Vice President Joe Biden narrowly leading Trump in Texas, or tied.

“Nobody wants him here,” said Royce Brooks, executive director of Annie’s List, a group that supports progressive women candidates for the Texas House. “If Republicans here are smart, they are distancing themselves from him, and his coming to town will not be helpful for that exercise.”

Dallas County Republican Party chairman Rodney Anderson said Trump’s visit can only help.

“The president is always welcomed in Dallas County,” he said. “With Republicans, there’s no question the president is popular. The folks that are with him continue to be with him – and will be with him all the way through November. Most of our activists are fired up and ready to go.”

His counterpart, Dallas County Democratic chairwoman Carol Donovan, said Trump was using Dallas as an “ATM machine” and should “start putting the American people first, instead of himself.”

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