President Donald Trump accepted his party’s nomination for reelection Thursday, emphasizing the importance of law and order as Kenosha dealt with the aftermath of a police shooting, looting, armed militias and the killing of two people on the city’s streets.
Taking the unusual step of addressing the nation from the White House on the fourth and final night of the Republican National Convention, the Republican president mentioned Kenosha by name, but not Jacob Blake, the Black man who was shot in the back by a police officer.
Instead, he suggested that without his presidency, police would be powerless — arguing the election is a decision to “defend the American way of life or let a radical movement to completely dismantle or destroy it.”
“When there is police misconduct, the justice system must hold wrongdoers fully and completely accountable, and it will,” Trump said. “But … we can never allow mob rule.”
Trump references Kenosha unrest
He delivered his pitch without clarifying whether he was calling out groups that are seeking racial equality, groups that are also seeking to cut police funding or others.
His hourlong speech came as the country was torn apart by unrest over how police treat Black Americans and the uncertainty brought by the coronavirus pandemic.
“In the strongest possible terms, the Republican Party condemns the rioting, looting, arson and violence we have seen in Democrat-run cities like Kenosha, Minneapolis, Portland, Chicago, New York and many others,” he said.
In wide-ranging remarks, Trump invoked Wyatt Earp and Annie Oakley, promised to send the first woman to the moon and said America would be the first country to reach Mars.
He claimed he would defeat the pandemic and made scorching attacks of Democratic nominee Joe Biden as a career politician.
“For 47 years, Joe Biden took the donations of blue-collar workers, gave them hugs and even kisses, and told them he felt their pain — and then he flew back to Washington and voted to ship their jobs to China and many other distant lands,” Trump said.
In Wisconsin, a state key to Trump’s chances in November, Republicans are under pressure from new forces like the Milwaukee Bucks to come back to the state Capitol next week to take up legislation aimed at reducing the likelihood of police using deadly force.
But Trump and other Republicans are arguing it is essential to use a massive police presence to quell unrest that has erupted in numerous American cities.
They have vilified Democratic Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers for not accepting initial federal help offered by Trump on Tuesday, just hours before a gunman shot three people on the streets of Kenosha, killing two.
Trump said Thursday voters were deciding whether to protect “law-abiding Americans or whether we give free rein to violent anarchists, agitators and criminals who threaten our citizens.”
Trump painted a dark picture of what a Democratic administration would bring, largely through policing policy changes.
“In the left’s backward view, they do not see America as the most free, just and exceptional nation on earth. Instead, they see a wicked nation that must be punished for its sins,” he said.
Biden and running mate Kamala Harris have taken a different view and called for addressing police shootings. In an appearance at George Washington University, Harris said it was unacceptable that Blake had been shot seven times from behind in front of three of his children.
“It’s sickening to watch. It’s all too familiar and it has to stop,” Harris said.
Biden and Harris spoke Wednesday with Blake’s family. Trump did not mention Blake’s name during his renomination speech.
Central to Trump’s message is convincing voters that violent protests and looting would be worse under a Democratic administration despite the current unrest happening under his watch.
It’s a law-and-order strategy that worked for Richard Nixon in 1968 following similar rebellion over racial discrimination and the war in Vietnam.
Trump and several speakers this week during the convention have focused on this idea: quiet suburban lives will be infiltrated by crime if Biden is elected.
Biden doesn’t support cutting funding for police, as Trump alleges. The president has focused his argument in part on a policy change under the Obama administration that Biden wants to reintroduce that would put more scrutiny on housing policies to ensure they don’t discriminate.
Trump’s argument that Democrats want to “abolish the suburbs” could work in Milwaukee’s suburbs where Trump underperformed in 2016, especially with white women. Trump is counting on anxiety over crime from Milwaukee spreading into neighboring communities.
Exploding in the middle of the convention is the unrest in Kenosha following the shooting of Blake, who is Black, by Rusten Sheskey, who is white. The incident sparked two nights of window smashing, looting and fire setting, which in turn prompted militia groups to show up.
The additional shootings occurred on Tuesday. Kyle Rittenhouse, a 17-year-old who said he was was part of a militia group, was charged with intentional homicide and other felonies Thursday, a few hours before Trump’s speech.
The situation has taken on an additional political dimension because it is occurring in a corner of one of the most crucial states in the presidential election. Trump narrowly won Wisconsin in 2016.
Biden accuses Trump of egging on disorder
Biden said Thursday on MSNBC that Trump appears to view the situation in Kenosha as a political benefit and he “just keeps pouring fuel on the fire.”
“He’s encouraging this,” he said. “He’s not diminishing it at all. This is his America now.”
Biden said he would consider visiting Kenosha but worried about the political spectacle it could create in an already established tinderbox.
“What I don’t want to do is become part of the problem and I want to make sure that it’s able to be done safely. If I were president I would be going,” he said in his MSNBC appearance.
Biden and Harris last week didn’t come to Milwaukee, where the mostly virtual Democratic National Convention was produced, because of the pandemic.
Trump has mocked Biden for that decision, but the pandemic also rendered the Republican convention a largely virtual event. Trump spoke from the White House instead of Charlotte, North Carolina, where the convention was originally supposed to be based.
Biden told reporters Thursday he planned to campaign in person in Wisconsin and other battleground states after Labor Day.
“I’m a tactile politician,” Biden said. “I really miss being able to, you know, grab hands, shake hands, you can’t do that now. But I can in fact appear beyond virtually, in person, in many of these places.”
Ivanka Trump, others take stage
Also appearing at the Republican convention was Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter and an adviser to him.
“Don’t let down those dairy farmers I met in Wisconsin. I don’t want them to like this deal, I want them to love it,” Ivanka Trump recalled her father saying about a new trade deal with Canada and Mexico.
Also speaking Thursday was Debbie Flood, the president of Melron Corp., a Schofield, Wisconsin, company that makes architectural hardware. She was the fifth Wisconsinite to speak during the convention.
Flood said Biden’s actions as a senator to foster U.S. trade with China hurt her business.
“When we lost nearly fifty percent of our business to China in the mid-2000s, we wondered how a small company like ours could continue to compete. … (Biden) voted to normalize trade with China and helped pave the way for them to join the (World Trade Organization), even though they were hurting American companies like ours,” she said.
But Trump, she said, “actually fought for American workers and American craftsmen.”
Ben Carson, Trump’s secretary of housing and urban development. called what’s happened in Kenosha heartwrenching. He was the only speaker to invoke Blake’s name.
“This action deserves a serene response, one that steers away from the destruction of a community that molded Jacob and his family into the kind of man his family and friends know today,” Carson said.
Rudy Giuliani, the former New York mayor and Trump’s personal attorney, called the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer “unforgivable.” At first, his death appeared to bring Republicans and Democrats together, Giuliani said, but peaceful protests were overtaken by violent forces.
“For President Trump, and for us Republicans, all Black lives matter,” he said, naming three young Black people who had been killed. “All lives matter to us. These continuous riots in Democrat cities gives you a good view of the future under Biden.”
Bill Glauber of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel contributed to this report.
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