Donald Trump's latest effort to connect with black voters on Saturday was considerably smoother than past attempts, as a number of churchgoers at Detroit's Great Faith Ministries reportedly left with a better impression of the Republican presidential candidate.
In prepared remarks, Mr. Trump described the African American church and faith community as "the conscience of this country" and "one of God's greatest gifts to America and its people," telling the primarily black audience that he was there to learn from them and would lay out his plans for economic change and school choice sometime in the future. He concluded by citing 1 John 4:12: "No one has ever seen God, but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us."
The speech, which one churchgoer described to CNN as "scripted" yet "honest and transparent," was a far cry from the Republican candidate's appearance in Dimondale, Mich., two weeks prior, during which he broke from an otherwise-scripted speech to ask black voters: "You're living in poverty, your schools are no good, you have no jobs, 58% of your youth is unemployed – what the hell do you have to lose?" The question didn't appear to have its intended effect, as many black voters dismissed the remark as "condescending" and insincere.
While churchgoers on Saturday agreed that Trump's scripted church appearance was unlikely to change the minds of most black voters, they did praise the candidate for presenting a more "humble" persona.
"I saw Donald Trump the human being, instead of Donald Trump the guy that just, you know, 'We're going to build a wall, we're going to keep them out,'" one attendee, Sonia Green, told CNN.
Such feedback, particularly in the midst of a campaign that's been defined by unscripted, controversial statements, might suggest that sticking with the script is in Trump's best interest. But his supporters and campaign leaders say the candidate's signature off-the-cuff remarks are a large part of his appeal and what sets him apart from other politicians.
"It’s unscripted and you’ll have things you're not prepared for – everyone does – but that has really been one of the key reasons as to why he won the nomination," said Trump campaign chief operating officer and Arizona treasurer Jeff DeWit to KTAR News in Phoenix, Ariz., last month. "We want something unscripted. We want something unfiltered. We want someone who says it like it is. You may not agree with everything he says, but he's telling you the truth."
Trump's extemporaneity has been a key campaign strategy since he declared his candidacy last summer: prior to the first Republican debate last August, the billionaire reportedly didn't even rehearse.
"I want to be me. I have to be me," he said in an interview with NBC's "Meet the Press." "We have enough of that in Washington with pollsters telling everybody what to say."
Trump has eased up on his no-script policy since: in a speech at the Trump National Golf Club in New York in June, the candidate read from a teleprompter, marking a shift in strategy.
"I have been staying on message more now because, ultimately, I’m finding that I do better with voters, do better in the polls, when I’m on message," he told The New York Times in August. He added, however, that he would not hesitate to deviate from the script when criticized. "If people hit me, I will certainly hit back," he said. "That will never change."