Was Donald Trump’s decision not to speak at the NAACP Annual Convention in Cincinnati a smart political move, or a slap in the face?
In the weeks leading up to the convention, political experts wondered if Trump would make the risky, yet bold move to speak to the nation’s oldest and largest civil rights organization, as so many presumptive GOP presidential candidates had done in the past.
That question loomed larger as the nation faced an outbreak of violence and simmering racial tension last week.
Then on Tuesday evening, NAACP president and CEO Cornell William Brooks told CNN that Trump had declined the invitation, citing a scheduling conflict with the overlapping Republican National Convention.
That decision brought a swift and angry response from African American leaders.
“At a critical time in our country, where people are concerned about justice, civil rights and unity, Donald Trump's refusal to address the oldest African American civil rights organization and thousands of members who will be in Cincinnati from all over the country speaks for itself," said Ohio Legislative Black Caucus President and State Rep. Alicia Reece in a news release.
Trump is very unpopular with black voters. In fact, in a recent Quinnipiac Poll, he got exactly 1 percent of black voter support.
“I don’t know what Donald Trump can say to the NAACP,” said Eddie Glaude, chair of Princeton University’s African-American studies department and author of a new book Democracy in Black.
“He doesn’t bring to the NAACP convention any hint of compassionate conservatism,” Glaude said. “He has no basis on which to appeal to that constituency. I can’t imagine the thought.”
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People has a long tradition of inviting presidential candidates to speak. And Republicans usually attend.
Mitt Romney, the 2012 GOP nominee, and Sen. John McCain, the GOP's 2008 choice, both addressed the convention.
But this year, presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton will have the stage to herself when she speaks on Monday.
“It’s a pretty big slap in the face, especially right now given the national dialogue with a lot of issues that are important to the NAACP,” said Jared Kamrass, principal at political consulting firm Rivertown Strategies. “It’s a pretty substantial snub from Trump.”
Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley agreed: "I think its disrespectful.”
Trump has been struggling with non-white voters. The latest polls show Clinton with large leads among African-Americans, Hispanics, women and young voters.
Despite this, Cranley believes that Trump should still have come to the NAACP convention.
“People should be campaigning for all votes and all groups -- regardless of who is for you and who is against you,” Cranley said. “If someone is elected president, they still have to represent everyone -- even people who didn’t vote for them. I think that is what true statesmanship is about.”
Alex Triantafilou, chairman of the Hamilton County Republican Party, blamed Trump’s absence at the NAACP on a scheduling conflict.
“The timing is just awful for the NAACP to have their convention the same week as a major party national convention,” Triantafilou said. “You wonder if the NAACP would schedule their convention the same week as the Democratic National Convention. The timing just seems to be unfortunate and I think Donald Trump’s making the right decision to focus on the convention of the Republican Party.”
The NAACP hosts its gathering July 16 to 20 in Cincinnati. The RNC will be in Cleveland from July 18 to 21.
Randy Sparks, a University of Dayton marketing professor, believes the NAACP convention may be a missed opportunity for Trump.
“There are strategic advantages to him accepting that invitation. He would appear brave, and willing to walk into the lion’s den, which would be particularly well received by his base,” Sparks said. “If he kept his remarks fairly sympathetic to the black experience, then criticism of him would wind up seeming petty.”
If Trump had come to the NAACP, a large national media audience would have followed him.
“It would have been a chance for him to double down on his rhetoric, it would have been a chance for him to stand tough – that would have been the upside for him,” Kamrass said.
But his campaign must have decided that any gain wasn’t worth the potential risk, Kamrass said.
“We’re moving into the convention, so the timing is critical,” said Bruce Newman, a Depaul University professor who specializes in political marketing.
“From a marketing standpoint, it makes sense that he’s not doing it,” Newman said. “It would be way too risky. He’s just spontaneous and he speaks off the cuff. Who knows what he would say.”
Trump wants the media talking about his vice presidential pick, which is expected this week, and not whatever possible flub he could make at the NAACP convention, experts said.
Yet Trump may offer an olive branch to the NAACP and send a surrogate, Kamrass said.
“As a last-minute compromise, he may send his VP pick,” Kamrass said. “But I can’t put myself in the shoes of the Trump campaign.”