The violent clashes in Portland and Kenosha are bad news for Joe Biden’s campaign.
It’s not that he is responsible for the unrest. It’s not that he hasn’t occasionally condemned such violence as he did in a fuller way in Pittsburgh yesterday. It is not that everyone should automatically believe in President Trump’s explosive charge that no one will be safe in Joe Biden’s America as he is not currently in office.
But the Democratic candidate made himself vulnerable to this rhetorical attack, and he and his campaign were less than nimble in defense.
Having a four day virtual meeting, not to mention the unrest that has ravaged American cities in recent months, was a huge mistake, gift package for Donald Trump. Biden̵
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After two people were killed in the riot in Kenosha following the shooting of Jacob Blake, Biden filmed a video denouncing both the shooting and street violence. But how many people saw the video? Politics is about knocking off a message.
The next day, when the Republican Convention pounded him, his campaign hastily arranged interviews with MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell and CNN’s Anderson Cooper. Biden, who spoke to the Blake family, said he would consider going to Kenosha. And he should have gone over the weekend and taken possession of the subject and driven it home by appearing in a Sunday show. Instead, he hesitated, and the president is going there today – because of objections from the mayor of the city and the governor of Wisconsin.
In his speech, the former Veep attacked the “senseless violence of looting and burning and destroying property”. He said that “riots do not protest. Looting does not protest. Setting a fire is not a protest. It is simply lawlessness, and those who do it should be prosecuted. “
Then he turned to accuse the president of starting the flames of violence and offered a broader definition of safety – one that includes the pandemic he would rather be fighting for.
Trump wasn’t exactly a unifying force during the urban turmoil. After his truck-driving supporters held a rally in Portland over the weekend – which tragically led to the fatal shots at one of his supporters – Trump tweeted a video of them shooting paintballs and using pepper spray against counter-protesters. “The major backlash in Portland can’t be unexpected,” Trump wrote.
The president also said that Biden “must always be weak against crime because of Bernie Sanders’ radical left-wing voter,” calling Democratic Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler “crazy”, “weak” and “pathetic”. (Wheeler has turned down federal aid, blaming Trump for the violence.)
Additionally, Jacob Blake’s attorney denies a White House report that the president tried to reach the paralyzed man’s family but was unable to connect.
Street violence, as Biden now seems to recognize, is a visceral problem. This was recorded by Andrew Sullivan, who blogs again and is against Trump:
“Insurrection and lawlessness are evil … If a party supports everything I believe in but does not believe in upholding law and order always and everywhere, I will support a party that does it.”
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Sullivan says the Democrats have a “massive blind spot” because it is “linked to a new and powerful ideology” and “falls straight into a trap”. As for the thugs that cause violence, “like it or not, these despicable fanatics are now in part the face of the Democrats: a growling group of self-righteous, legitimate bigots chanting slogans rooted in a pseudo-Marxist gossip trap.” ” And he says both the Biden campaign and the New York Times “are too cowardly and intimidated to call out these bullies and drive them out of the ranks.”
In the far more liberal Atlantic, George Packer says it is pointless for Biden and the Democrats to reject the Trump attacks as part of the political conversation. They are effective and are backed up by certain facts. Trump will be beating this loud, ugly drum by election day. He knows Kenosha trapped the Democrats ”- the same word Sullivan uses.
The headline: “So Biden Loses.”
Packer wrote dismissively of Biden’s video last week: “In the crude terms of a presidential campaign, voters know that the Democrat means it when he denounces the brutality of the police, but less when he denounces the riots. To reach and convince the public, Biden has to go beyond the boilerplate and make it personal and memorable. “His advice late last week – Biden should go to Kenosha – was not followed. Remember, Hillary Clinton lost Wisconsin when she did not travel to this crucial state.
I still think Biden needs a moment with Sister Souljah. In the aftermath of the LA riots, Bill Clinton convicted a black rapper who spoke of killing white people. Is Biden ready to face an extremist on the left?
There is a lot of guilt to go around. Of course Trump wants to do the campaign on law and order, not the coronavirus, but that doesn’t mean the issue is illusory. The mayors, who prefer to denounce Trump rather than suppress the unrest, the liberals who openly sympathize with the destructive communities, and the media, which show only selective outrage, are also complicit.
The question for Biden is whether he can convince the country that he is as determined to fight crime on the street as he is police wrongdoing.