Events in Kenosha could provide the change of narrative that Donald Trump desperately needs.
There was a reason why Joe Biden’s speech at the Democratic National Convention warranted so much attention. In this campaign, one candidate believes he has everything already locked in place. His biggest selling point and most powerful criticism of his opponent have both been defined and priced in by the electorate for months. In contrast, the other candidate is desperate for events to change the narrative of the campaign. As a result, the former – Joe Biden – has made limited appearances in public so far.
The main reason voters provide when they are asked why they’re for Joe Biden, is that he’s not Donald Trump. This forms the fundamental premise on which the Democratic campaign is built upon.
To help highlight differences with his opponent, Biden has sought to do as much as he can to make himself the epitome of everything Trump isn’t. After a week of the party outlining what had gone wrong in America, Biden’s answer to fixing these woes was himself. His character.
This was a man who had been through personal tragedy and who had the character to pull America through. From the Democratic Convention he told America: Of those of you who have lost the most – I have some idea how it feels to lose someone you love. I know that deep black hole that opens up in the middle of your chest and you feel like you’re being sucked into it. I know how mean and cruel and unfair life can be sometimes.’
Thus the strength Biden wishes to advance the most, is his character. Both his greatest strength and his greatest charge against Trump rests on character. This is something that voters have already decided upon. According to ‘Gallup polling’ ‘views of Donald trump across four key characteristics are largely stable’. This includes negative opinions on ‘caring about the needs of people like me’ and being ‘honest and trustworthy’. Equally, opinions on Biden as an individual have been shaped since he joined the Senate in 1973. He is an opponent any campaign would struggle to re-define.
For this rather conservative strategy to be effectual though, Biden needs the narrative to remain the same. Mainly focussed on Trump’s flailing response to Covid-19, and to the issue of racial discrimination. According to pollster Robert Griffin, these are the two biggest issues in US politics at the moment.
But events in Kenosha, Wisconsin, threaten to derail this and provide Donald Trump with the change of narrative he desperately needs. After the death of George Floyd questions on racial discrimination and police brutality were brought to the fore. In contrast, after the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, pictures of rioting, looting, and burning buildings dominated the airwaves.
The political conversation was about violence, and law and order, rather than racial discrimination. This is significant. On the issue of race, 56% of voters believe Trump has made race relations worse. But when it comes to questions of law and order, Biden is far more vulnerable to attack. According to JP Morgan analyst Kolanovic, polls could ‘shift five to ten points from Biden to Trump if the perception of protests shifts from justice to violence’.
Many of the riots are occurring in Democratic-controlled cities and in areas where local officials have refused the help of federal forces. In Oregon, the Democratic governor Kate Brown called the federal agents an ‘occupying force’. Portland mayor Ted Wheller declared ‘we do not need or want their help’. Wheeler told protestors ‘if they launch the tear gas against you, they’re launching the tear gas against me’. Before being forced to retreat to his office after protestors turned against him.
Reflecting the movement of the Democratic Party further to the left down the ballot and at grassroot levels, in multiple states Democratic Governors are struggling to balance law and order, with cries from some of their supporters ‘to defund the police’. In a new Harvard CAPS/Harris Poll, 77% of Americans are ‘extremely or very worried’ about crime in the nation’s cities. Of this group, 42% say protestors are the main reason for the rise in crime, with 85% of all respondents believing those rioting and looting should be ‘prosecuted’. 51% believe inner-city prosecutors are not trying to find and prosecute the rioters. 78% said those destroying public statues should be prosecuted.
When it comes to protests on racial issues, Biden is comfortable. When the narrative is about violence in America’s cities, he sits on very precarious ground.
Over the last month, Donald Trump has tried with little success to label Biden as a puppet of the radical left in his party. This was made harder when Kamala Harris was chosen as candidate for Vice President, someone whom Bernie Sanders’ former campaign press secretary accused of being a ‘top cop’.
Yet the violence being seen in places like Kenosha may help Trump. If TV screens and Facebook feeds are filled with videos of burning cities, voters will be more likely to enter the polling booth with law and order, rather than racial issues, in mind. It is notable that at least concerning this Harvard CAPS and Harris Poll, voters are blaming city officials. City officials who are mostly representatives of the Democratic Party.
Biden is in a vulnerable position if America’s cities continue to burn as we approach election day. That is why he made such aggressive comments on the issue this week in Pittsburg:
“I want to be very clear about all of this: Rioting is not protesting. Looting is not protesting. Setting fires is not protesting. “It’s lawlessness, plain and simple. And those who do it should be prosecuted.”
Election strategists talk of ‘outside events’ that threaten their carefully planned campaign narrative. These are occurrences their candidate has little control over or could not see coming. Joe Biden needs the narrative of this election to remain on the pandemic and race. Trump’s flailing response to the ‘outside event’ of Covid-19 blew a hole in his re-election strategy. But another may just help save his campaign.