CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) — Former White House strategist Steve Bannon told a group of black South Carolina business leaders Friday that he understands the frustration they and others might feel at not being able to grow their businesses.
"Minority entrepreneurs are the biggest customers of community banks," Bannon said. "And you know why they didn't get recapitalized? Because nobody cares. When it comes time to make the deals, you're not in the room."
The Brietbart News chief participated in a round-table discussion with several dozen black business leaders from across the Carolinas and Georgia. The event sponsored by the South Carolina African American Chamber of Commerce was closed to media except for The Associated Press.
Chamber Chairman Stephen Gilchrist, who counts Bannon as a friend, said he broached the idea of speaking to some of his members during a recent visit with Bannon at his Washington, D.C., home.
"This administration has an opportunity to engage a new constituency, and show them what policy really means," Gilchrist told AP, ahead of the event.
Bannon got a warm welcome from the group, getting a resounding "Amen!" from members when he explained that his concept of "economic nationalism" has nothing to do with ethnicity or race but rather for policies that advance opportunities for its citizens.
For the black community, Bannon said, that means strengthening the community banks on which he said many minority-owned businesses rely. Those institutions, he said, didn't get the same bailout opportunities as bigger banks did following the economic downturn several years ago.
"When it comes time to make the deals, you're not in the room," he said, adding that big banks "got a piece of the action."
"Isn't it time for your piece?" he asked.
Saying she and other black voters had trusted Trump when he told them he would support their communities, Vareva Harris of Benedict College — a historically black school in Columbia — asked Bannon what other candidates they should support to have a voice in government.
"President Trump said, to black people, 'vote for me, what do you have to lose?'" Harris asked. "That's what we're waiting for. Who else do we need to put there? Just tell us, and we'll get them there."
"I'm right here!" gubernatorial candidate Catherine Templeton, who also addressed the group, spoke up from a corner of the room.
Later Friday, Templeton introduced Bannon at a dinner at The Citadel, where he received an award from The Citadel Republican Society. Two other Republicans vying for next year's GOP nomination, incumbent Henry McMaster and Lt. Gov. Kevin Bryant, also were on hand.
Bannon hasn't made any endorsement in the South Carolina governor's race, but he and Templeton, the state's former labor chief, have stayed in touch since the Trump administration conisdered her for a U.S. Labor Department job. She is casting herself as an establishment-challenging outsider beholden to no interest groups.
McMaster has the backing of Trump.