Trumps 2020 message is spreading fear about chaos and anarchy – Business Insider
Then-candidate Donald Trump promised supporters in 2016 that he would “make America safe again” by cracking down on crime, which had reached historic lows at the time.
Four years later, Trump and the Republican party have embraced a “law and order” message, and declared Americans won’t be safe under a Democratic administration, as their ticket to reelection.
Republican political strategists hope fears about violent crime will eclipse concern about Covid-19, the economic crisis it threw the country in and the Trump administration’s deeply flawed pandemic response.
Polling hasn’t shown that Trump has an edge on “law and order” issues or that Joe Biden will be hurt by Trump’s messaging.
“If Donald Trump is premising his entire reelection on winning the fifth most important issue … that seems less like a genius strategy and more like a Hail Mary,” a Democratic strategist said.
“Our Convention occurs at a moment of crisis for our nation,” Donald Trump told a boisterous crowd of supporters. “I have a message for all of you: the crime and violence that today afflicts our nation will soon come to an end. Beginning on January 20th 2017, safety will be restored.”
Four years after Trump promised at the 2016 Republican convention that he’d “make America safe again,” he’s seizing on a virtually identical message while serving as president amid widespread protests over police brutality towards Black Americans.
Even as 1,000 Americans continue to die from Covid-19 every day, tens of millions remain unemployed, and wildfires and hurricanes wreak havoc across the country, the GOP convention this week was dominated by urgent warnings that Americans won’t be safe under Biden’s leadership.
“No one will be safe in Biden’s America,” Trump declared from the South Lawn of the White House on Thursday night.
Biden, who’s come under fire for his role in crafting the 1994 crime bill that exacerbated mass incarceration, has supported the peaceful protests against police mistreatment of Black people and repeatedly denounced looting and rioting.
‘Chaos and anarchy and vandalism and violence’
The Republican party spent the last four days railing against violence in American cities, which has marred peaceful mass demonstrations against racism and police brutality ever since George Floyd was killed by police in Minneapolis in May. Meanwhile, other forms of crime, including homicides, have spiked since the pandemic hit.
No matter that the “chaos and anarchy and vandalism and violence,” as Trump aide Kellyanne Conway put it, has broken out on Trump’s watch. The GOP blamed Democratic mayors and governors, and promoted a St. Louis couple who brandished weapons at protesters, while conservative activists praised a 17-year-old accused of murdering two protesters in Wisconsin.
Vice President Mike Pence put it bluntly during his address on Wednesday night: “You won’t be safe in Joe Biden’s America.” Conway argued that violence in America’s streets will boost Trump’s reelection chances.
“From Seattle and Portland to Washington and New York, Democrat-run cities across this country are being overrun by violent mobs. The violence is rampant,” South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem said during her RNC address on Wednesday. “There’s looting, chaos, destruction and murder. People that can afford to flee have fled. But the people that can’t — good, hard-working Americans — are left to fend for themselves.”
Donald Trump Jr. told a story of good versus evil: “This election is shaping up to be church, work, and school versus rioting, looting, and vandalism.”
The president hammered home the same message in his 70-minute closing speech on Thursday night, falsely claiming that Biden plans to defund the police.
“The most dangerous aspect of the Biden platform is the attack on public safety,” he said.
Trump boasted of his own criminal justice reform legislation and then slammed Democrats for supporting policies aimed at ending mass incarceration, warning they would release hundreds of thousands of criminals “onto the streets and into your neighborhoods.”
Meanwhile, the crowd of 1,500 supporters seated inches apart on the South Lawn were nearly all maskless. The virus’ death toll and the ongoing danger it poses went unmentioned.
Republicans are doing their best to conflate peaceful protests against police violence with the riots. Most famously, the president had peaceful demonstrators tear gassed outside of the White House so he could stage a photo op outside a nearby church in June.
While Biden has repeatedly condemned looting and rioting, many Democrats have been reluctant to focus too much attention on the rioters. They fear drawing an equivalence between police brutality and the response to it.
“Burning down communities is not protest,” Biden said in a video this week. “It’s needless violence.”
Black Lives Matter activists and others on the left have called to defund the police, but Biden has rejected the approach and instead proposed boosting funding for social workers to work alongside law enforcement and other community policing efforts. He’s also called for a federal ban on chokeholds and a national use of force standard.
Trump’s ‘Hail Mary’
Recent polling shows that crime is an important issue for Americans, particularly for Republicans. A Pew survey in mid-August found that violent crime was the fifth most important issue for all voters — 59% called it “very important.” By comparison, 63% of voters said the same of the coronavirus, which has killed 180,000 in the US, infected 6 million, and thrown the country into an economic crisis.
The economy, healthcare, and Supreme Court nominations were the top three issues for registered voters when deciding who support this fall.
But polling hasn’t shown that a recent decline in support for the Black Lives Matter movement will hurt Biden, according to a FiveThirtyEight analysis. It’s not clear that GOP messaging on crime will hit Biden in the way the party hopes.
While Republicans have historically campaigned on “law and order” messaging, a late July poll from The Washington Post and ABC News showed Biden with a nine-point lead over Trump on “crime and safety” issues.
Republican political strategists hope fears about violent crime will eclipse concern about Covid-19 and the Trump administration’s deeply flawed pandemic response.
“Fear is a real motivator in politics. In March and April people were afraid of coronavirus — that fear is dissipating,” Matt Mackowiak, a Republican strategist, told Business Insider. “The fear about coronavirus is now becoming fear about safety in cities and suburbs and neighborhoods.”
Conservatives say violence in Kenosha, Wisconsin following Jacob Blake’s shooting by police on Sunday could help spread fear that crime will spread to cities across the heartland.
“Kenosha, to me, feels like a tipping point because it’s one thing when it’s a large urban area — Portland, Seattle, Chicago, New York — most of middle America has never been to those places,” Mackowiak said. “To go from a quiet, suburban, medium-sized town to chaos in 48 hours, I think that wakes a lot of people up.”
But Democratic strategists hope voters will blame the uptick in crime on the current president. They say Trump’s positioning as an antidote to chaos isn’t credible.
“When people see chaos, they don’t see Donald Trump as the answer to it,” Jesse Ferguson, a Democratic strategist who served as a spokesman for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign, told Insider. “He’s led a country into chronic chaos for three and a half years.”
Democrats and others point out that fear-mongering about crime didn’t work for Trump last cycle. Leading up to the 2018 midterm elections, Trump railed against illegal immigration and misleadingly claimed a caravan of migrants, including criminals and members of ISIS, was preparing to invade the country.
Republicans lost their House majority and Trump stopped talking about caravans and border invasions.
“If Donald Trump is premising his entire reelection on winning the fifth most important issue, when it’s an issue that he’s at best tied with us on, that seems less like a genius strategy and more like a Hail Mary,” Ferguson said.