“I got indicted for nothing, for something that is nothing,” Trump told a black-tie event for black conservatives in South Carolina ahead of Saturday’s Republican primary.

Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley helps her mother, Raj Kaur Randhawa, cast her ballot in the South Carolina Republican primary on Saturday. Photo: AFP

“And a lot of people said that’s why the black people like me, because they have been hurt so badly and discriminated against, and they actually viewed me as I’m being discriminated against. It’s been pretty amazing but possibly, maybe, there’s something there.”

Trump has centred his third campaign for the White House on his grievances against Biden and what he alleges is a “deep state” targeting him, even as he faces charges from his efforts to overturn the 2020 election, keeping classified documents at his Florida estate, and allegedly arranging payments to a porn actress.

He is the dominant Republican front runner, as many of the party’s voters echo his beliefs, and is favoured to soundly beat former UN ambassador Nikki Haley in her home state.

Trump noted the mugshot taken by Georgia authorities after he was indicted on state racketeering charges over the 2020 election.

Trump sells pieces of suit worn in Georgia mugshot

“When I did the mugshot in Atlanta, that mugshot is No 1,” he said, adding: “You know who embraced it more than anyone else? The black population.”

Trump’s campaign has predicted he can do better with black voters in November than he did four years ago, citing Biden’s faltering poll numbers with black adults and what Trump sees as advantages on issues like the economy and the record-high number of people crossing the US-Mexico border, often ending up in cities with large black populations.

He was flanked on stage at the Black Conservative Federation’s gala in Columbia, South Carolina, by black elected officials including congressmen Byron Donalds of Florida and Wesley Hunt of Texas. Many in the crowd cheered throughout the speech.

In a freewheeling speech, Trump mixed his regular campaign remarks with appeals to the black community and jokes that touched on race.

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Donald Trump becomes first ex-US president to face criminal charges: lawyer

Donald Trump becomes first ex-US president to face criminal charges: lawyer

“The lights are so bright in my eyes I can’t see too many people out there. But I can only see the black ones. I can’t see any white ones. That’s how far I’ve come,” Trump said to laughter from the audience.

He also said that he knew many black people because his properties were built by black construction workers.

In telling a story about how he renegotiated the cost of remodelling Air Force One, Trump criticised his predecessor, former president Barack Obama, the first black person to be elected to the White House.

“I have to tell you, black president, but I got US$1.7 billion less,” Trump said. “Would you rather have the black president or the white president who got US$1.7 billion off the price?”

As the crowd cheered, he added: “I think they want the white guy.”

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Republicans face an uphill battle in courting black voters, who are overwhelmingly supportive of the Democratic Party. And while black voter enthusiasm for Biden has cooled over the last year, only 25 per cent of black Americans said they had a favourable view of Trump in a December AP-NORC poll.

Black voters who spoke with Associated Press before the gala expressed scepticism that Republicans, and Trump in particular, could persuade them to switch parties.

“There’s just so much controversy,” said Ebony McBeth, a Columbia resident and transport worker. “I would go for Biden just because Trump has his own agenda.”

Isaac Williams Snr, a retired cook from Columbia and a lifelong Democrat, said he disliked both parties but found Trump to “have mobster tendencies. He’s only out for himself.”

Former US president Donald Trump is seen on a screen during the keynote address of the Black Conservative Federation gala in Columbia, South Carolina, on Friday. Photo: Bloomberg

Multiple conservatives interviewed said the Democratic Party’s appeal to black voters was based on “emotional politics” by evoking racism.

“In order for the Republican Party to win more of the African-American community over, we’ll have to invest a lot of time and more money into really letting people know our platform, because the truth of the matter is a lot of them, they agree with our platform but they don’t associate that with the Republican Party,” said Samuel Rivers Jnr, a former Republican state senator in South Carolina.

Rivers, who is black, argued that black voters view Republicans “in a negative way based on emotional triggers of racism that no longer exists”.

Trump has a long history of stoking racial tensions. From his earliest days as a New York real estate developer, Trump has faced accusations of racist business practices.

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In 1989, he took out full-page newspaper ads calling for New York state to reinstate the death penalty as five black and Latino teenagers were set to stand trial for beating and raping a white woman in Central Park.

The five men were eventually exonerated in 2002 after another man admitted to the crime and it was determined their confessions were coerced.

He spent years spreading the lie that Obama was ineligible to hold office. When he was president, Trump derided “s***hole countries” in Africa and said four congresswomen of colour should go back to the “broken and crime-infested” countries they came from, ignoring the fact that all of the women are American citizens and three were born in the US.