President Donald Trump is coming to Kenosha on Tuesday to survey the damage after the rioting following the shooting of Jacob Blake, an African American, by Kenosha police.
Blake was refusing to obey the orders of the police to put a knife down, resisting arrest, and then attempted to either enter or reach into a vehicle when he was shot seven times.
After a video recording of the shooting became public, authorities were unable to bring the situation under control. Governor Tony Evers was slow to respond with the National Guard and then did not give Kenosha the resources they asked for the following night. It was only after two people were killed did Evers agree to accept federal help to bring the situation under control.
Trump is likely to remind the public of Evers’ behavior, just as Trump has criticized other Democratic mayors and governors for their unwillingness to take the steps necessary to end the rioting in their city.
The question is, what else will Trump say?
The issue of the rioting has become a central campaign issue. Former Vice President Joe Biden addressed the issue on Monday by condemning the violence, the looting and the arson in the riots. Now it’s the president’s turn.
Presidents have a unique advantage in these types of situations. The office they hold commands respect, even among the president’s critics. As a result, the President of the United States has a platform in politics unlike any other.
More than any previous occupant of the officer, Trump’s (shall we say unique?) reality television personality attracts attention – both positive and negative. It’s fair to say that the entire country will hear what Trump has to say on Tuesday.
It’s an opportunity for Trump to be aspirational, to talk about what should bind us all together as Americans. He could calm tensions by condemning the violence and calling for peaceful protests instead of riots. He could call for meaningful reform of the nation’s police while rejecting “defunding.” Trump could call for Americans to come together to heal our racial divisions. If he has any related policy agenda, now would be the time to unveil it. He could even stand for the rule of law by talking about the importance of due process and public calm during investigations of police shootings.
It’s unlikely we’re going to get that speech. Trump’s predecessors were much better at that sort of thing. For example, President Barack Obama’s speech after the attempted assassination of Rep. Gabby Giffords (D-AZ) was one of his best. Regardless of how one feels about the rest of his time in office, Obama rose above the partisan politics to try to bring the country together that day.
No, we’re probably not going to get that type of speech. If we’re lucky, we’ll get a stump speech about the vague need for “law and order” and a promise to not defund the police (a local decision). He’ll probably promise to send the National Guard into every rioting city, and we may even hear about federal charges for rioters.
If we’re unlucky, Trump will give a speech that will only encourage more confrontations in the street and more vigilantism. Will Trump praise the “militia” members who showed up in Kenosha, making a bad situation worse? The same “militia” that put a rifle in the hands of a 17-year-old with tragic results? Will he throw out some promises of pardons? That may be “red meat” for his supporters, but it will not appeal to the independents who are looking for leadership as our cities are suffering.
The swing voters in this election are not seeing real leadership from the Democrats on confronting the riots, a fact that has seeped into Democratic internal polling.
In an interview with the New York Times, I explained the vulnerability of the Democrats on the issue:
James Wigderson, editor of a conservative website in Waukesha, Wis., said the chaos reinforced the message of the Republicans this week that the Democrats were not fit to govern.
“Whether it’s fair or not, they see this all as one monolith: From Biden on down to the guy throwing the brick at the cop,” said Mr. Wigderson, who has been critical of Mr. Trump. “As a result, they are more motivated not to let those people win.”
Trump’s appearance in Kenosha on Tuesday is a yuuuge opportunity for his campaign to take advantage of the Democrats’ vulnerability on the issue of the riots.
But if Trump is seen on Tuesday as contributing to the continuation of the violence, his visit to Kenosha could be the moment when Trump loses the election.
For the sake of all of us, let’s pray that the president sticks to the teleprompter. What Wisconsin does not need, regardless of the political implications, is anything that can be interpreted as endorsing more confrontations and more political violence.