Skip to contents

What Black Americans Need to Know About the 2024 GOP Presidential Candidates

Capital B recaps the main contenders’ positions on some of the challenges facing Black communities.

Polls have shown U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, one of the presidential candidates participating in the Aug. 23 Republican debate in Milwaukee, with about 3% support. (Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press)

It’s hardly a secret: Black voters are the very heart of the Democratic Party’s base, and support its candidates in proportions that eclipse other demographic groups.

Still, about 10% of Black voters today identify with or lean toward the Republican Party, according to the Pew Research Center. And over the past few years, there’s been much dispute about why some Black men voted for Donald Trump at higher rates than Black women in the 2020 presidential election.

As the key contenders for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination take the stage for the first GOP primary debate on Wednesday, it’s worth understanding their positions on some of the top issues affecting Black voters, such as policing, voting rights, and education.

To punch their tickets for the debate, which is being held in Milwaukee, candidates had to have a minimum of 40,000 unique donors, reach at least 1% in a combination of polls, and vow to support the eventual Republican nominee.

Read on for snapshots of the qualifying GOP candidates. This story will be updated as the field evolves. The debate will air on Fox News from 9 to 11 p.m. ET.

Donald Trump

Overview: Trump was the 45th U.S. president until 2021. Before his 2016 run for the White House, he was known as a reality-television personality and an unsuccessful businessman. He’s trouncing his Republican rivals for the 2024 nomination. A July New York Times/Siena College poll shows Trump around 54%. Trump has refused to sign the pledge vowing to support the eventual Republican nominee, and he’s said that instead of going to the debate, he’ll post a prerecorded interview with former Fox News host Tucker Carlson.

Notable Positions: On the campaign trail — as he faces a litany of criminal charges, including those for his alleged involvement in the Jan. 6 assault on multiracial democracy — Trump has leaned into a politics of revenge and echoed the anti-government rhetoric of the white-power movement.

When Trump was in the White House, the U.S. Department of Justice retreated from attempts to confront the systemic discrimination plaguing many police departments, skimped on hate crime prosecutions, and bolstered state efforts to restrict voting rights for Black Americans and other marginalized groups. Further, he referred to majority-Black Baltimore as a “disgusting” and “rodent-infested mess,” and disparaged Haiti and African nations as “shithole countries.”

Long before he was president, Trump’s career was dogged by racist incidents, including his call for the execution of five Black and brown teenagers after the 1989 assault of a white Central Park jogger.

Ron DeSantis

Overview: DeSantis is the 46th governor of Florida; he’s served in this position since 2019. Prior to entering the governor’s mansion, he was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Florida’s 6th Congressional District, along the state’s eastern coast. He’s polling around 17%.

Notable Positions: DeSantis’ tenure as governor has been rife with controversy, particularly when it comes to race and identity issues. Just earlier this year, he announced that Florida would ban public schools from participating in the College Board’s pilot AP African American Studies course. The move is part of the state’s much broader attack on critical race theory and inclusive curricula, which DeSantis on the campaign trail has characterized as “indoctrination.”

So troubling are developments in Florida — DeSantis last year oversaw passage of the “Don’t Say Gay” law — that the NAACP has issued a travel advisory for the state. The announcement was in response to the governor’s “aggressive attempts to erase Black history and to restrict diversity, equity, and inclusion programs in Florida schools,” the group’s statement read.

Nikki Haley

Overview: From the beginning of 2017 through the end of 2018, Haley served as the 29th U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. She was also the 116th governor of South Carolina from 2011 to 2017. She’s polling around 3%.

Notable Positions: For years, Haley has had a strained relationship with Black voters, especially in South Carolina. And that’s in no small part because when she was in the governor’s mansion, she helped design a 2011 voter ID law that was at first considered too racially discriminatory to be on the books. (Before the U.S. Supreme Court defanged the 1965 Voting Rights Act in 2013, South Carolina was required to receive federal approval prior to changing its voting laws or election procedures.)

When she announced her run for president earlier this year, Haley reiterated her support for the law, declaring, “Voter ID will be the law of the land — just like we did in South Carolina.”

For a time, the former governor was a staunch supporter of keeping the Confederate flag on statehouse grounds. It was only after a white supremacist gunned down nine Black churchgoers in Charleston in 2015 that she agreed to remove it. And like her fellow GOP candidates, she soft-pedals the ongoing problem of racial discrimination.

Tim Scott

Overview: The only Black Republican in Congress’s upper chamber, Scott has been a U.S. senator from South Carolina since 2013. From 2011 to 2013, he was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from South Carolina’s 1st District, which includes parts of Charleston. He’s polling around 3%.

Notable Positions: Compared with other GOP candidates, Scott has largely avoided some of the more obviously troubling rhetoric on race and identity issues. He’s championed bipartisan talks on police reform and Opportunity Zones (a federal program created to spur business growth in low-income neighborhoods that has yielded, at best, mixed results), and he co-sponsored the Emmett Till Antilynching Act of 2022.

Read More: Tim Scott and the Republican Party’s Uphill Battle for Black Voters

Even so, Scott has endorsed the GOP’s attacks on critical race theory and “wokeness,” a social justice term rooted in Black communities that conservative leaders in recent years have contorted into a pejorative. (In 2021, Scott said that “‘woke supremacy’ is as bad as white supremacy; after facing backlash, he sought to clarify his comments.) Scott also tends to downplay the persistence of racial inequality, and voted in line with former President Trump more than 90% of the time.

Like other Republican contenders, Scott on the campaign trail has insisted on the need for “education, not indoctrination” and “law and order,” sentiments often used to minimize the importance of honest Black history and brush aside how racial inequality is baked into the criminal legal system, respectively.

Mike Pence

Overview: Pence was the 48th U.S. vice president from 2017 to 2021, serving under Trump. From 2013 to 2017, Pence was the 50th governor of Indiana. Since certifying the results of the 2020 election, he’s largely distanced himself from the former president. He’s polling around 3%.

Notable Positions: On the campaign trail, Pence has been pitched to party voters “as a true economic, social, and national security conservative — a [Ronald] Reagan conservative.” This is a reference to the film actor turned governor turned president who was known for, among many other things, expanding the war on drugs that devastated Black communities in the 1980s.

Pence, an evangelical Christian, also fiercely opposes abortions and access to gender-affirming care for minors, though major medical associations support such care.

As Trump’s lieutenant, Pence defended the former president against accusations of racism, and he dismissed the fact that Black Americans are disproportionately burdened by police violence. He’s said that if he becomes president, he’ll “clean house” at the U.S. Department of Justice, which under President Joe Biden has moved toward reaffirming civil rights.

Vivek Ramaswamy

Overview: Ramaswamy is a wealthy biotech entrepreneur and founder. He’s also the author of the 2021 book, Woke, Inc.: Inside Corporate America’s Social Justice Scam. He’s polling around 2%.

Notable Positions: Ramaswamy on the campaign trail has cast himself as an “anti-woke” activist, and he’s railed against racial and gender equality and climate justice. At an event in August, he called Juneteenth a “useless” holiday.

In February, Ramaswamy had a heated exchange with former CNN anchor Don Lemon over the role of the Second Amendment in Black history. Scholar Walter Greason said that Ramaswamy’s thinking was flimsy — it “overlook[ed] segregation in the North and in the West” and how “slavery and segregation are related.”

Chris Christie

Overview: From 2010 to 2018, Christie served as the 55th governor of New Jersey. He ran for president in 2016, but eventually dropped out of the race and endorsed Trump. Christie was a close adviser to Trump until the 2020 election, and since then has become one of the former president’s most outspoken critics. He’s polling around 2%.

Notable Positions: A slightly more moderate Republican, Christie on the campaign trail has sometimes been willing to break with his party. For instance, he recently excoriated DeSantis over the state’s new Black history standards, saying that DeSantis should take responsibility for the controversy he’s fueled.

Still, Christie tends to toe the party line. He said in July that he doesn’t believe that there’s “a growing movement in the country to ban books,” despite the record number of restrictions on books about race, gender, and sexuality. And he framed education in terms of “parental rights,” a term that’s long centered the priorities of conservative white parents and been used to thwart conversations about certain topics.

Doug Burgum

Overview: A software billionaire, Burgum is the 33rd governor of North Dakota; he’s served in this role since 2016. While he didn’t meet the 1% threshold of the New York Times/Siena College poll above, he hit that target in a July Morning Consult poll.

Notable Positions: On the campaign trail, Burgum has at times pushed back against some of the Republican Party’s most extreme positions. Even so, he endorsed Trump in 2016 and 2020 and has overseen the passage of bills codifying views at odds with social equality.

For instance, over the past few years, Burgum has signed into law bills prohibiting the teaching of critical race theory in the state’s public K-12 schools and banning gender-affirming care for people younger than 18.

Leveraging the language of “parental rights,” the governor said in 2020 that the anti-critical race theory law “addresses the concerns of parents while preserving the decision-making authority of local school boards to approve curriculum that is factual, objective, and aligned with state content standards.”

Asa Hutchinson

Overview: Hutchinson was the 46th governor of Arkansas from 2015 to 2023, and he held a number of roles before that, including a role as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Arkansas’s 3rd District, in the northwest, from 1997 to 2001. While he’s met the polling requirement for Wednesday’s debate, his national polling average is under 1%.

Notable Positions: Hutchinson on the campaign trail has sought to stand out by opposing Trump, and has said that Trump’s indictments ought to be disqualifying.

In 2021, Hutchinson allowed a bill to become law that bars state agencies from teaching “divisive concepts” — including anything saying that the U.S. is an inherently racist country — to instructors, contractors, and others during training.

That same year, he approved bills that ban transgender girls and women from participating in school sports that match their gender identity and permit medical workers to refuse performing certain procedures if they have religious or moral objections. Also in 2021, he vetoed a bill that would bar physicians from providing gender-affirming care to transgender minors (the Republican-controlled state legislature overrode the veto).

Other candidates

The following candidates haven’t qualified for Wednesday’s debate, but they’re still running for the GOP nomination:

  • Larry Elder, a Black right-wing media personality who attempted to unseat California Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom in a 2021 recall election
  • Will Hurd, a Black former U.S. representative for Texas’s 23rd Congressional District
  • Francis Suarez, the 43rd mayor of Miami
  • Perry Johnson, a Michigan businessman
  • Ryan Binkley, a Texas businessman

Capital B is a nonprofit news organization dedicated to uncovering important stories — like this one — about how Black people experience America today. As more and more important information disappears behind paywalls, it’s crucial that we keep our journalism accessible and free for all. But we can’t publish pieces like this without your help. If you support our mission, please consider becoming a member by making a tax-deductible donation. Thank you!