Instead of letting Donald Trump be his freewheeling self, his campaign has prepared lengthy answers for the submitted questions, consulting black Republicans to make sure he says the right things.
DETROIT — Donald Trump’s visit to a black church in Detroit on Saturday will be a major moment for a candidate with a history of offending the sensibilities of black Americans.
His team is leaving nothing to chance.
Instead of speaking to the congregation at Great Faith Ministries International, Trump will be interviewed by its pastor in a session that will be closed to the public and news media, with questions submitted in advance. Instead of letting Trump be his freewheeling self, his campaign has prepared lengthy answers for the submitted questions, consulting black Republicans to make sure he says the right things.
An eight-page draft script obtained by The New York Times shows 12 questions that Bishop Wayne Jackson, the church’s pastor, intends to ask Trump during the taped question-and-answer session, and the responses Trump is being advised to give.
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The proposed answers were devised by aides working for the Trump campaign and the Republican National Committee, according to an official who has been involved in the planning but declined to be identified while speaking about confidential strategy.
The document includes the exact wording of answers the aides are proposing for Trump to give to questions about police killings, racial tension and the perception among many black voters that he and the Republican Party are racist, among other topics.
The official said the answers could change based on feedback from the black Republicans they are consulting.
It is not uncommon for a candidate to request interview questions in advance; aides to Hillary Clinton do it from time to time. But it is unusual for a campaign to go so far as to prepare a script for a candidate’s own responses, and highlights the sensitivity of Trump’s first appearance at a black church. Trump’s series of slights, including his questioning of President Obama’s birth certificate, has not endeared him to black voters.
The interview will be aired about a week later on the Impact Network, Jackson’s Christian cable-television channel. The official said several Trump aides would be working with the network to edit the taped interview so the final version reflected the campaign’s wishes.
The arrangement has angered several black Republicans who had been urging that Trump, who is widely seen as distant from the black community, speak for at least 10 minutes at the service, according to the official involved in the planning. The official said the Trump campaign was uncomfortable with the candidate speaking before the congregation and insisted instead on the private interview.
Hope Hicks, a spokeswoman for the Trump campaign, did not respond to questions about the campaign’s requirements for the visit and interview. She also said she was not familiar with the script.
“I’m not aware of the document you reference but, as you know, Mr. Trump is an unscripted candidate,” she said in an email. “He is genuine and authentic, but not unprepared. Mr. Trump looks forward to attending what is sure to be an important event on Saturday.”
Trump is well-known for veering from prepared remarks or throwing them away entirely. That could happen Saturday: Many of the answers being prepared for him do not sound much like Trump as his usual self.
When asked about his vision for black Americans, the script suggests Trump stay positive, advising that he use lines such as: “If we are to make America great again, we must reduce, rather than highlight, issues of race in this country” and “I want to make race disappear as a factor in government and governance.”
To a question submitted by Jackson about whether his campaign is racist, the script suggests Trump avoid repeating the word, and instead speak about improving education and getting people off welfare and back to work. “The proof, as they say, will be in the pudding,” Trump is advised to say. “Coming into a community is meaningless unless we offer an alternative to the horrible progressive agenda that has perpetuated a permanent underclass in America.”
To the first question, “Are you a Christian and do you believe the Bible is an inspired word of God?,” the scriptwriters have a response they hope will keep Trump from repeating previous stumbles when asked about his faith.
“As I went through my life, things got busy with business, but my family kept me grounded to the truth and the word of God,” the script has Trump saying. “I treasure my relationship with my family, and through them, I have a strong faith enriched by an ever-wonderful God.”
Jackson said Thursday that he did not know about any preparations the Trump campaign was making. He said he saw no problem with the campaign asking to screen his questions, and noted that in the past he had given advance text of prayers he planned to deliver at the White House.
“We want this to be as peaceful as possible,” Jackson said. “That’s what I promised would happen. I promised that: You are coming into a place to be interviewed and we don’t want anybody to be hurt or anybody to be misused, so that’s it.”
Of all the proposed answers, the most Trumplike might be his reply to the final question of the interview: What he would say to undecided black voters?
“If you want a strong partner in this journey, you will vote for me. I will never let you down,” Trump is directed to say, adding, “By the way, my support is now up to 8 percent and climbing.”