Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Blowback From Kenosha

David A. Graham in The Atlantic says Kenosha and it’s aftermath may be the last straw.

Perhaps Kenosha will prove a turning point for this presidential campaign, but if it does, it’s far more likely to be because it has turned voters against Trump than because it has rallied them to his support.

There’s an intuitive logic to the idea that protests, rioting, and racial tension will benefit President Trump’s reelection effort. Trump seems to thrive on chaos, and his 2016 election was driven in large part by racial resentment and fear among white voters. Therefore, ginning up white racial resentment now might be one thing—perhaps the only thing—that can save the president’s foundering campaign. A parade of pundits, generally of the center-right or moderate, Trump-skeptical variety, emerged late last week to demand that Biden denounce violence forcefully (he had, and has again since) or deliver a “Sister Souljah moment” (however misleading that shorthand is) or else risk losing the election.

There isn’t much up-to-date polling to go on so far, and the story is still developing, but Trump’s decision to stoke racial tension earlier this summer has been the one thing that has managed to shake up an otherwise very stable presidential race. The president’s impeachment, the ravages of the coronavirus, a vast economic collapse—none of these has done much to change either the dynamics of the Biden-Trump race or the president’s approval rating. The one exception came in June, amid massive, nationwide protests that followed the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Rayshard Brooks at the hands of police. Trump’s numbers tumbled, driven by voters—especially white voters—panning his handling of racial justice and the protests.

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Americans aren’t blind. They can see the violence, they can see that Trump won’t condemn it, and they can see that Biden has. As the former vice president said today, “Ask yourself, do I look like a radical socialist with a soft spot for rioters? Really?”

It’s a good line. Biden doesn’t fit the type, and the ill-conceived 1994 crime bill that he shepherded—so damaging to him in the Democratic primary—may actually help inoculate him against Trump’s attacks now. Yet despite all this, Biden had to be practically dragged into talking about the protests, and has resisted calls to go to Kenosha.

Meanwhile, Trump is eagerly seizing onto an issue that seems to harm him. Even though each previous round has ended poorly for Trump, he keep doubling and tripling down on exacerbating racial tension. Maybe once he goes big enough, it will work for him. Or maybe Trump, a man who went bankrupt running a casino, just isn’t all that clever a gambler.

With two months to go, the short-term memory of the electorate will more than likely forget about Kenosha, Jacob Blake, and Kyle Rittenhouse. But the overall abstract of Trump’s obvious racism and currying favor with white supremacy isn’t going away, and while it has been a part of his character and his tenure, it can be used by his opponents to bring out the voters who heretofore didn’t think it mattered if they did or didn’t vote.