Defying requests to stay away, President Donald Trump headed for Kenosha, Wisconsin, on Tuesday to highlight his “law and order” re-election campaign theme in a city upended by protests after the shooting of a Black man by a white police officer.
Opinion polls show the Republican president narrowing the gap with the front-running Democrat, former vice president Joe Biden, amid ongoing protests over racial injustice and the resulting violence.
Trump’s trip to Wisconsin, a political battleground state that he won narrowly in 2016, gives him a chance to emphasize his police-friendly pitch in a state he hopes to keep in his column in the Nov. 3 election.
The state’s governor and the city’s mayor both urged Trump to stay away from Kenosha in order to avoid inflaming tensions and allow its citizens to heal.
But the president dismissed their appeals, choosing to visit one of the flashpoint cities where anti-racist demonstrators have clashed with Trump supporters who have converged on protest sites, sometimes openly carrying arms while vowing to protect property from looters.
A 17-year-old Trump supporter has been charged with killing two people and wounding another with a semi-automatic rifle in Kenosha. Trump sided with the white teenager, who faces six criminal counts, and declined to condemn violence from his supporters.
In Portland, Oregon, site of three months of nightly protests that have often turned violent, a Trump supporter was shot dead on Saturday.
“One of the reasons I’m making the trip today and going to Wisconsin is we’ve had such a big success and shutting down what would be right now a city – that would have been Kenosha – a city that would have been burned to the ground by now,” Trump said before boarding Air Force One.
‘LAW AND ORDER’
The president takes credit for restoring peace in Kenosha since National Guard and federal law enforcement reinforcements were sent in. Although Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers called in more National Guard troops on his own authority, Trump sent in about 200 federal law enforcement officials.
Kellyanne Conway, a Trump adviser until Monday, said last week the president stood to benefit politically from the kind of unrest that erupted in Kenosha. Trump’s “law and order” message appeals to his base of white supporters.
Meanwhile he has largely overlooked the racial wounds caused by police use of force and plays down the more than 180,000 U.S. deaths from the coronavirus pandemic.
At last week’s Republican National Convention Trump portrayed Biden as a leader whose policies would create further chaos in the streets, trying to link Biden to vandals and left-leaning, violent activists.
Biden has responded by calling for rioters and looters to be prosecuted while saying Trump himself was stoking the violence with divisive rhetoric, calling the president “too weak, too scared of the hatred he has stirred to put an end to it.”
Peaceful demonstrators have complained that violent agitators, often white, have hijacked their protests with property damage.
Trump did attempt to arrange a meeting with the family of Jacob Blake, the Black man partly paralyzed after a police officer shot him in the back, by going through the pastor of Blake’s mother, according to Blake family lawyers.
Trump said in the end he would not meet with Blake’s relatives because of a request that a family lawyer be involved.
Trump’s trip has increased the expectation that Biden would also visit Kenosha. Biden’s campaign has said the candidate would go to Wisconsin soon but has not disclosed details. He and his running mate Kamala Harris both spoke with Blake’s father.
Biden leads Trump in Wisconsin, according to an average of polls by RealClearPolitics.