During a speech peppered with theatrics — including directing his wife, Melania Trump, to award the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Rush Limbaugh, the conservative radio talk show host who has advanced lung cancer — Mr. Trump’s overtures to black voters were not subtle. His gestures earned him accolades from his administration members and Republican supporters gathered in the House chamber, but others criticized Mr. Trump’s checklist-style approach as pandering.
“This entire #SOTU is a micro-Targeted campaign speech,” Jason Johnson, a politics and journalism professor at Morgan State University, wrote on Twitter. “Handing out gifts for poor black folks. Pitying single black mothers to appeal to white women in the burbs. This is about the base and suppressing the black vote. Dems aren’t paying attention.”
Derrick Johnson, the president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, dismissed the proceedings as little more than stagecraft.
“As we witness yet another episode of political theater, take a moment to check your voter registration status and encourage your friends and family to vote,” Mr. Johnson said on Twitter. “We have the power to change course and elect officials who are committed to protecting our democracy.”
During Mr. Trump’s speech, some, but not all, members of the Congressional Black Caucus stood and applauded as Mr. Trump rattled off his administration’s achievements. Earlier in the day, members of the Democratic group’s leadership said they were not impressed with Mr. Trump’s overtures, including the Super Bowl advertisement.
In recent days, the White House and Trump campaign allies have acted bullish on bringing black voters into the fold, including a “$25,000 cash giveaway” held by a nonprofit organization run by one of Mr. Trump’s most prominent African-American supporters.
Despite skepticism that these tactics will work to win over voters in the fall, Mr. Trump’s advisers, including his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, have told him that black voters will show their support if they can simply be educated on his policies.
Sheryl Gay Stolberg contributed reporting.