The most important job of the President of the United States is to keep the people of America safe. Until the last few weeks, a compelling argument could have been made that Mr. Trump had failed to do that. The coronavirus was credited with over 180,000 deaths, 6 million cases and untold numbers of business failures with the attendant stress on small business owners, many displaced workers, and their families. The economy, once thriving a mere six months ago, was going into the tank (although the stock market was still on the rise). Things for average Americans were looking bleak and the Democrats were doing a pretty good job hanging that on Mr. Trump.
Then came the street demonstrations and their degeneration into riots. It started with George Floyd, but there have been many cases of what appears to be excess police violence on innocent Black citizens. The Jacob Blake case is just the latest, but has led to real fatal violence on the streets of Kenosha, Wisconsin, not usually thought to be the focus of civil rights activism or civil disobedience to the point of burning and looting.
In another of his many media savvy clever moves, Mr. Trump has turned his inability to keep the American people safe from the virus to an asset. He will instill “law and order” in the streets of America. Like Nixon before him, Trump may ride this to victory even as the civil unrest occurs on his watch (not the case for Nixon in 1968). As William McGurn points out in The Wall Street Journal of September 1, that makes Biden, the former vice president, long-time senator, and middle of the road friend of the left, the Hubert Humphrey of 2020. I believe that McGurn is right and that barring a sharp move on the part of Biden, the former vice president will suffer the same fate as did Humphrey—a loss to the law and order candidate.
Like it or not, the perception is that the rioting is coming from the left and that left drifts into Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and AOC pretty quickly as it attempts to justify its lawlessness. Unless Mr. Biden clearly and forcefully separates himself from that element of the Democratic Party, a group whose votes he desperately needs, he will suffer the fate of Humphrey who never recovered from being Johnson’s Vietnam “lapdog,” yet linked with the left by Nixon.
If Mr. Biden wants to win what appears is shaping into a one-issue race—safety—he will have to convince those in the middle that he will both have a plan to protect them from the virus and to bring law and order to the streets of Kenosha, Portland and Washington, DC. So far he has not done this and I fear it will doom his campaign if he does not take the bull by the bull horn and go to these places of unrest and make the case that he is the better choice to keep the country safe.
I want to know exactly what Mr. Biden will do on Day One to begin to decrease both the threat of corona infection and the equally virulent plague of civil unrest in the cities. The murder rates are up across America. Why? If it is secondary to the empowerment of the extreme right by Mr. Trump, show me the data. If not, why then and what are you going to do about it?
We are approaching Labor Day. This is the official kick-off of the presidential race, but that race started long ago when the virus left China for our shores and the police killed George Floyd. Each candidate has to paint a picture for the American people of how he will keep them safe from the infection, violence and economic ruin. The candidate who does that best will likely win the day on November 3.
As of now, with great media skill and deft bending of the truth, Mr. Trump is gaining on Mr. Biden and Biden, like Humphrey before him, seems incapable of mounting a viable response. This is sad on one hand, but we better find this out now. If Biden isn’t up to duking it out with Trump on television, then he’s not up to duking it out with Chairman Xi either.