There was no response, no red-capped counter-demonstration. In Washington, as in many cities, people protesting the killing of George Floyd by police gathered, faced off with riot-gear-wearing police and then scattered. A week that began with the president asking for a criminal probe of an unfriendly TV host ended with him promising to “designate Antifa as a terrorist organization,” though there's no legal way to do so.
That has led to speculation of how the unrest will play for President Trump, with just as many people arguing that it will seal his reelection as arguing that it'll undo him. Who's right? It is far too early to say, and none of the easy comparisons hold up in 2020.
It's not 1968. Most of the quick analysis of the unrest, from politicians and from journalists, has pointed to the election of Richard Nixon to suggest events could help reelect the president. “He won on a law-and-order platform that appealed implicitly to white anxiety,” Edward Luce, referring to Nixon, wrote in the Financial Times. “Richard Nixon won the presidency by promising the country he would restore ‘law and order’ on the streets,” historian Julian Zelizer wrote for CNN.
The comparison fails in two important ways. First and most obviously, Nixon was not president in 1968. He was returning from political limbo to challenge, at first, an incumbent Lyndon Johnson and then by fall, Johnson's vice president. Every summer had seen riots break out in major cities, and every year, the crime rate surged. When Nixon told the Republican National Convention that “we see cities enveloped in smoke and flame,” he had no political power or responsibility over those cities.
“America is in trouble today not because her people have failed but because her leaders have failed,” Nixon continued. “What America needs are leaders to match the greatness of her people.”
President Trump has lashed out at mayors and governors, but arguing that all the country's “leaders” are failing is something an incumbent can't coherently do. That gets to the second problem: The law-and-order pitch stopped working for Nixon once he was sworn in. As Walter Shapiro recalled Sunday, polling ahead of the 1970 midterm elections found most voters disapproving of Nixon's crime record. In the Democrats' official pre-midterm message, Sen. Ed Muskie of Maine leaned in, accusing the president of flailing because he hadn't solved the crime problem.
“For four years, a conservative Republican has been governor of California,” Muskie said, referring to Ronald Reagan, the era's other major (non-Southern) law-and-order figure. “Yet there is no more law and order in California today than when he took office. President Nixon, like President Johnson before him, has taken a firm stand. A Democratic Congress has passed sweeping legislation. Yet America is no more orderly or lawful — nor its streets more safe — than was the case two years ago, or four, or six.”
It's not 1992. Violent crime rates rose throughout the 1970s and 1980s, with Republicans regaining the advantage when voters were asked to consider “law and order.” Bill Clinton's presidential campaign tried to turn that around, with the candidate promising not to “make race an excuse for failing to pass judgment about self-destructive behavior” and endorsing “the simple restoration of order.”
The Los Angeles riots, which followed the “not guilty” verdict for four police officers who had beaten Rodney King, crystallized Clinton's message. George H.W. Bush was running for president, but the crime rate kept growing. At one point, when the White House suggested that Democratic welfare policies were at the root of unrest, Clinton mocked them.
“It's just amazing,” Clinton said. “Republicans have had the White House for 20 of the last 24 years, and they have to go all the way back to the '60s to find somebody to blame.”
Clinton developed a playbook that other center-left politicians would use for years, combining a promise of more policing and tougher sentencing with a promise of smarter social investment.
“We cannot take our country back until we take our neighborhoods back,” Clinton said at a July 1992 rally, flanked by police officers. “I want to be tough on crime and good for civil rights. You can't have civil justice without order and safety.”
Once in office, Clinton acted on that, signing popular crime bills and presiding over declining crime rates — and no major social unrest. At the start, he did so with the support of many black political leaders. The salience of crime as a presidential election issue faded, while incarceration rates skyrocketed. No modern Democrat has responded to this week's unrest with rhetoric like Clinton's.
It's not 2016. By the time Donald Trump ran for president, violent crime had been on the decline for decades, and influential Republicans had pivoted from tough-on-crime policies to criminal justice and police reform while Democrats began reversing policies like stop-and-frisk and cash bail. The shift from the attitudes of the 1990s was epitomized by Hillary Clinton, who apologized for a 20-year-old speech in which she called some young black criminals “super-predators.” What was smart politics for a 1990s campaign was toxic in 2016. But at the same time, unrest after the killings of black men by police officers and fearmongering about Barack Obama's crime policies fed into a paranoia that danger was increasing and the government was covering it up.
Trump, unencumbered by a political record, pitched himself as both a one-man solution to the crime problem and an alternative to Clinton's record. “I have a message for all of you: The crime and violence that today afflicts our nation will soon, and I mean very soon, come to an end,” Trump said at the 2016 RNC. “Beginning on January 20th, 2017, safety will be restored.” While his campaign bought ads that portrayed Hillary Clinton as a threat to black voters, Trump himself promised to side with law enforcement over anyone disturbing the peace, and, once in office, he rolled back the Obama administration's reforms.
“The Obama administration and the handcuffing and oppression of police was despicable,” Bob Kroll, the president of Minneapolis's police union, said at a 2019 rally. “The first thing President Trump did when he took office was turn that around, got rid of the [Eric] Holder-Loretta Lynch regime and decided to start letting the cops do their job, put the handcuffs on the criminals instead of us.”
In 2020, the Trump campaign balanced tough-on-crime rhetoric with the same argument it had made against Clinton: that Trump's Democratic opponent locked up black Americans unfairly. That was before Minneapolis.
By this weekend, the Trump campaign was accusing Joe Biden's campaign of “financially support[ing] the mayhem that is hurting innocent people,” because some of its staffers had donated to a bail fund for protesters, while the president was urging police to be “tougher.” At the very same time, Washington's mayor was mocking an “afraid” and “alone” president, pointing out that he claimed local police were not trying to protect the White House, when they very much were. Richard Nixon won by portraying himself as a unifier against an out-of-control left; Bill Clinton won reelection by carefully navigating the politics of crime and unrest. There is nothing very careful, yet, about what we've seen from this president.
“With ‘shooting’ tweet, Trump inflames rather than soothes tensions amid Minneapolis unrest,” by Philip Rucker and Toluse Olorunnipa
How this president's response to unrest could hurt him.
“George Floyd death reshapes Biden’s VP search,” by Marc Caputo and Natasha Korecki
Black women rising in the veepstakes.
“In George Floyd killing, Joe Biden seeks to project empathy as activists and party leaders demand details,” by Sean Sullivan, Jenna Johnson and Colby Itkowitz
How the “back to normal” candidate is trying to navigate the chaos.
“Black Americans have a message for Democrats: Not being Trump is not enough,” by Astead W. Herndon
The growing demands for a bigger Biden agenda.
“Will urban uprisings help Trump? Actually, they could be his undoing,” by Rick Perlstein
A historian challenges some assumptions about elections and unrest.
Why the GOP's CA25 win might be tough to repeat 20 more times.
“Biden leads Trump in Post-ABC poll as president’s coronavirus rating slips,” by Dan Balz and Emily Guskin
A 10-point lead for the Democrat, with caveats.
Kathy Landing, “The Lowcountry Can't Afford.” Ahead of South Carolina's June 23 primary, the hottest competition is for the GOP nomination in the Charleston-centered 1st Congressional District, where Democratic Rep. Joe Cunningham won narrowly two years ago. The argument here has evolved from what Republicans intended to run on just a few months ago: “They spend millions on a sham impeachment, but won't hold China responsible for coronavirus.” It's not just that Democrats impeached Trump but that they will not help the president in a crisis.
Evelyn Farkas, “Liberty.” A Democrat seeking a relatively safe seat in New York City's suburbs is doing something we've seen a lot of since 2016, twinning a broad anti-Trump message with a national security biography. “I took on dictators and bullies who didn't like how I stood up to President Trump,” says Farkas, the former deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia. It's an argument designed to cut through any ideological spats in a primary full of them.
Barbara Bollier, “Not Enough.” The Republican-turned-Democrat in Kansas is betting her campaign on Republicans nominating Kris Kobach, the loser of 2018's gubernatorial race, over a more moderate candidate. With most of Bollier's primary foes already out of the race, this spot introduces her as a “moderate” and “independent” (“words you don't hear often in today's politics”) who simply wants to fix crises.
Do you think these qualities describe the candidate? (Washington Post/ABC News, 1,001 adults)
… is honest and trustworthy: 35%
… understands the problems of people like you: 38%
… is a strong leader: 50%
… has the right presidential personality and temperament: 38%
… has the mental sharpness to serve effectively: 46%
… is honest and trustworthy: 48%
… understands the problems of people like you: 45%
… is a strong leader: 43%
… has the right presidential personality and temperament: 53%
… has the mental sharpness to serve effectively: 51%
The Post's latest poll finds the Democratic nominee leading the president by the biggest margin all year — 10 points among all voters, five points among the voters most enthusiastic about their choice. That has been an issue for Biden throughout his campaign, and he is especially soft, compared with recent Democratic nominees, with Latino voters. A closer look at the candidates' personal qualities shows why the president is vulnerable and why, despite his incumbency, there's an idea that unrest would help him.
On nearly every character trait, Biden leads Trump. On whether Biden lacks “mental sharpness,” an attack Trump himself has made and the campaign has elevated with Web ads, Biden is winning: A majority of voters think he's sharp enough and Trump isn't. That comes not long after a Fox News poll that showed a plurality of voters trusting Biden over Trump on the vaguely defined issue of “China,” suggesting that two months of “Beijing Biden” attacks had not moved the needle.
The bright spot for the president is that more voters consider him a “strong leader” than will say the same of Biden. That's not uncommon when an incumbent is facing a challenger, but it suggests that months of lopsided optics — Biden speaking from a home studio, Trump speaking behind the presidential seal — have hurt the Democrat.
On the trail
It has been one week since Jo Jorgensen became the Libertarian Party's nominee for president, and the world has changed a few times since. When The Trailer caught up with the South Carolina-based academic, there had been just one day of protests in Minneapolis and the president had not yet pulled the United States out of the World Health Organization.
“I try to keep up with the news between interviews,” Jorgensen said Friday. “If anybody else wanted to meet with me today, I wouldn't have the time.”
Jorgensen is not widely known, and her name has not even been included in public polling of the presidential election. She's the first Libertarian nominee since 2004 never to have held elective office and the first since that year who did not leave the Republican Party. We talked about how she would handle the mounting crises facing this president, and a lightly edited transcript follows.
The Trailer: How closely have you been following the developments in Minnesota, and what's your immediate response?
Jo Jorgensen: It's very tragic what's going on. My feeling is whoever thought of putting cameras in cellphones deserves the Medal of Freedom, because having citizens out there kind of policing the police is helping us get more information and to make this a better world. But I'm not just talking about just policing the police. With the stores, unfortunately, the rioters are a completely different group of people than the peaceful protesters. And I'm all for peaceful protests. However, somebody getting killed is not related to, or just not an excuse for, going into Target and stealing a TV. They're completely separate things.
TT: How would you have responded if you were president? How differently from Trump?
JJ: I'm not sure if the president was sending people there before he was asked. I just want to say that what I would do is come in when necessary. And I think just in general, the response is a little quick. But if somebody calls for my help, of course, I would bring it in. We have to keep in mind that this happened in Minnesota. Minnesota seemed to be taking the right steps. They immediately fired the [officers], which is pretty unheard of. They've already charged at least one person. So as long as the local, you know, state, local, whoever is dealing with the issue, as long as they're dealing with the issue, great. Just fine, I should say. I don't think that the federal government needs to step in, and they only need to step in if they actually need the help now. Now, once there was rioting and the governor asked for help, then of course, I would give what help I could.
TT: What limits would you place on police? What powers do they have now that they should not have?
JJ: This could be an hour-long conversation in itself. But the primary point here is that police are a local issue. The federal government should not be involved with police, because crime is a local issue. If you look at crime now, one thing that I'm dead set against is these “no knock” laws. Oftentimes [police] will go in and people get killed, people get hurt. And it turns out that they don't find the drugs there anyway. Which leads back to the question of should drugs be legal in the first place? This is just a prohibition all over again. If people could peacefully use marijuana the way that people peacefully use alcohol, we wouldn't have a need for these no knock laws. I mean, we don't have a need now.
TT: I want to ask about covid-19. Should the Cares Act have been passed? Would you have supported it?
Absolutely not. In fact, in my nominating speech, I said, yeah, the government cares, all right: It cares about special interest groups, and that's what the money is going to go to. First of all, airplanes are still going to be there. You don't need to bail out the airline industry, because if you don't, it doesn't mean the airlines are going to magically disappear. Perhaps the companies didn't do a good job of running the companies to begin with. The bureaucrats can never spend money as well as individuals will. And so, first of all, with these $1,200 checks that people are getting, people are forgetting that the money for the most part was taken from them to begin with. The money has to come from somewhere.
If you look at the small mom-and-pop stores, their business is down like 75 percent from last year. But business for Amazon and Wal-Mart is way up. So instead of taking money from Americans who may want to support their local stores, like I do, we turn it over to be given to the large corporations. And it shows once again that the greedy corporations get larger through the force of government.
TT: If you'd been president, how would you have responded to the virus? Let's say it's February, and we know what this virus is and where it's heading.
JJ: Well, the first thing I would have done is been in an informational role. I would have gone to the American public. I would have said, look, this is serious, it's a good idea to stay home. But what I would not have done is put everybody under house arrest in which they have to stay home and not go to work. This is the biggest assault on our liberty, it really is, in my lifetime.
TT: Okay, and let's say you take over in 2021. The Libertarian Party wants to balance the budget. Can you do that in these conditions?
JJ: I would want to balance the budget the first year, because I would make cuts that President Trump is afraid to make. Part of the thing he ran on was bringing the troops home. And he has not done that. At best he'll bring some troops out, then put drones in. I would start on Day 1, bringing the troops home. I don't see why we couldn't cut our military budget by at least two-thirds.
TT: To really balance the budget, you'd need to cut more. So, what about entitlements? Start with Social Security, which the president usually says he won't touch.
JJ: I advocate having an immediate opt out. So, if you're a younger person, you never have to pay Social Security again. You get to choose your own retirement. You have control of your retirement. You don't have to give it away to the government, who is just handing it off to their friends and cronies anyway. We need to sell government assets and give these people a private retirement that is under their control, because right now seniors are basically held out there at the whim of the government.
TT: A lot of what you're talking about, Republicans talked about before Trump. And when Gary Johnson ran, there was an idea that frustrated conservatives would leave Trump, and seek out the Libertarian Party. Why hasn't that happened?
JJ: The reason that all of the statisticians were so far off in 2016, the predictions were so far off about Trump winning, was that they were only looking at recent voters. They weren't looking at the people who were so unhappy, so dissatisfied that either they had never voted or they hadn't voted in, like, 20 years. So I think this is a perfect opportunity, because basically these people said, 'We're sick of government, we're sick of the same old, same old. We want somebody who's going to take on the cronyism and be different.' So, that's why they chose Trump. What I'm hoping is that those same people will look at Trump and say, well, you know what? We have the same thing. He's supposed to be getting rid of the deficit, but he's as bad as Obama was at spending money. I'm hoping that most people will say, you know what, I was desperate enough to vote for Trump last time, I'm going to look for another alternative.
The spotlight moved away from the presidential contest this weekend, with Joe Biden and President Trump speaking only a few times, largely reacting to events. On Saturday, the president attended the successful second attempt by SpaceX to launch a rocket into space and told reporters that Minneapolis needed to crack down on unrest.
“They’ve got to get tougher, they’ve got to get tougher,” Trump said. “They’ve got to be strong. Honor the memory of George Floyd. Honor his memory. They have to get tougher. And by being tougher, they will be honoring his memory. But they cannot let that happen.” In a series of tweets, the president blamed local officials and Antifa for unrest.
Biden reacted to the unfolding events in statements, after a plan to speak to Minnesota Democrats was canceled along with their remote convention. Early Sunday morning, Biden denounced property damage and urged protesters to “turn all that anguish to purpose.” His statement did not specifically mention police misconduct, referring to it subtly at the end.
“I will keep the commitment I made to George’s brother, Philonise, that George will not just be a hashtag,” Biden said. “We must and will get to a place where everyone, regardless of race, believes that ‘to protect and serve’ means to protect and serve them.”
Biden had been scheduled to speak to Maine Democrats on Sunday, with a prerecorded message. Just before the party's convention began, the message was pulled from the schedule without explanation.
The unrest in major cities has quickly reshaped the conversation about Joe Biden's potential running mate, with a growing focus on the black women on his shortlist, and growing skepticism about one of the white women.
Amy Klobuchar had already been criticized for doing little outreach to black voters in the primary and faced skepticism from her state's NAACP, and now she was confronted over not prosecuting Derek Chauvin in her final days as Hennepin County district attorney. Her successor did so — Chauvin was involved with a shooting in the final days of Klobuchar's DA term — but Democrats close to Biden said that the new scrutiny would hurt her chances.
“We are all victims sometimes of timing,” House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.) told reporters Friday. “This is very tough timing for Amy Klobuchar, who I respect so much.”
Kamala D. Harris, another former DA who faced primary attacks over her prosecutorial record, faced less criticism than Klobuchar as she spoke on the George Floyd killing. She made a silent appearance at a Saturday afternoon protest outside the White House (a peaceful one, ending before a more violent protest that evening), tweeted video of incidents where police shot rubber bullets at journalists and made TV appearances where she said that the president had exacerbated tensions instead of relieving them after the death of George Floyd.
“He is dead, and black blood stains the sidewalks of America,” Harris said in one TV hit. “Folks are in pain, and have been, for a long time.”
Keisha Lance-Bottoms, the first-term mayor of Atlanta and a long-shot VP candidate, earned perhaps the most positive media attention of any mayor with a weekend news conference in which she called for calm and handed the microphone to Killer Mike, a Bernie Sanders supporter who had favored another candidate for mayor. In a Sunday CNN interview, she called on President Trump to “just stop talking” and for the focus to return to police misconduct.
“What happens when we have these violent protests and uprisings in our city, we get distracted from what the real issue is,” Lance-Bottoms said. “And we need to get back to what the problem is. And that's the killing of unarmed black people in America.”
Val Demings, a three-term Florida congresswoman who previously led Orlando's police department, published a Washington Post op-ed asking for police to reflect on what they were doing wrong.
“We must conduct a serious review of hiring standards and practices, diversity, training, use-of-force policies, pay and benefits (remember, you get what you pay for), early warning programs, and recruit training programs,” she wrote.
… two days until the primaries in Indiana, Iowa, Maryland, Montana, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, South Dakota and the District of Columbia.
… 23 days until New York's presidential and congressional primaries
… 39 days until the Green Party meets to pick a presidential ticket
… 78 days until the Democratic National Convention
… 85 days until the Republican National Convention
… 155 days until the general election