• 39°

Steven Roberts: The warning of history

By Steven V. Roberts

“I want to be very clear about all of this,” Joe Biden said in Pittsburgh this week. “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.”

If the Democrats really want to defeat Donald Trump, that statement should be repeated, frequently and forcefully, between now and Election Day. And not just by Biden, but by everyone who supports him. If they don’t, they’re playing right into Trump’s hands and providing him a chance, probably his only chance, of reviving his campaign and winning in November.

Of course, Trump is inflaming tensions, not calming them. Of course, the turmoil he denounces is happening on his watch, not Biden’s. Of course, he’s exploiting a few isolated incidents for callous political purposes. Of course, Biden was absolutely right when he said on CNN, “These guys are rooting for violence. That is what it is all about.”

We know all that. But the goal of Trump’s opponents should be to win the election, not the argument; to be politically smart, not morally superior. And vigorously condemning lawbreakers is only the start of what Democratic strategists should be doing. They should also be telling protesters to go home, to deprive Trump of the oxygen his campaign desperately needs.

That’s what happened this week in Kenosha, the Wisconsin city Trump visited after the police shooting of a Black man, Jacob Blake, ignited waves of protest. The Washington Post reports that the Rev. Jesse Jackson shrewdly told a group of local Black activists, “Trump is coming to town to use us as a prop in his commercial to scare white people to get votes. He wants to see us and the red caps on two opposite sides. Let Trump swing in the wind.”

We know exactly what Trump’s strategy is because his senior adviser, Kellyanne Conway, told us on Fox: “The more chaos and anarchy and vandalism and violence reigns, the better it is for the very clear choice on who’s best on public safety and law and order.”

As a Washington Post editorial put it, “The president’s weekend tweet storms — toxic eruptions of personal attacks, conspiracy-mongering, vicious threats and false accusation — serve his election strategy of deepening the nation’s divisions. They perfectly distill the idea of an us-vs.-them United States that he believes will galvanize his base and frighten suburban swing voters into his camp.”

Anyone who thinks that strategy cannot succeed has not consulted or comprehended history. Richard Nixon used the same language Trump now employs to demonize antiwar demonstrators and counter-culture “hippies,” creating an “us-vs.-them” dynamic — a division that pitted order against disorder, and patriotism against protest. And it worked — not only for Nixon, twice, but for Ronald Reagan in 1980 and 1984, and George Bush 41 in 1988.

There are signs that the Nixon/Trump strategy could be working again. Biden’s overall lead in national polls has dropped to an average of 6.2 points, according to RealClearPolitics, but the Democrat’s margin in battleground states is only 2.7. A Morning Consult poll found that after the GOP convention, Biden’s lead among critical suburban voters shrank from 14 points to 8 points, while Trump’s margin among whites rose from 2% to 8%.

The New York Times, no friend of Trump’s, published a report from Kenosha with this headline, “How Chaos in Kenosha Is Already Swaying Some Voters in Wisconsin.” The story quoted James Wigderson, a conservative editor who’s been critical of Trump, saying the president’s attacks on Democrats were hitting home with some voters: “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. As a result, they are more motivated not to let those people win.”

Waitress Priscella Gazda, who voted for Barack Obama in 2008, added: “I am going to vote for Trump. He seems to be more about the American people and what we need.”

The Democrats cannot allow Trump to brand them as the party of chaos. They cannot allow him to avoid the subject of COVID-19, since 63% of Americans tell ABC that they dislike Trump’s performance on that issue. Above all, they cannot repeat the mistakes of four years ago, when they went into Labor Day with a big lead and ran a smug and stumbling campaign for the next two months. If they ignore the warning of history, they could lose again.

Steven Roberts teaches politics and journalism at George Washington University. Email him at stevecokie@gmail.com.

Comments

Education

Cooper vetoes bill that would force K-12 schools to reopen

Local

Lanning named Spencer’s fire chief

Crime

Blotter: Feb. 26

Crime

Salisbury, Kannapolis men charged with soliciting sexual acts

News

Racial bias ‘deeply entrenched’ in report critical of Apex Police Department

Nation/World

US bombs facilities in Syria used by Iran-backed militia

Elections

City council again dismisses idea of adding new member, focus now on recommendation to delay elections

Business

‘Let’s make some money:’ Loosened restrictions praised by bar owners, baseball team

High School

Salisbury High bucks historical trend in dominant shutout of West Rowan

Enochville

Garage declared total loss after Enochville fire

Crime

Cooper, N.C. prison officials agree to release 3,500 inmates

Coronavirus

Two more COVID-19 deaths reported in Rowan, six for the week

Crime

Blotter: Man brandishes AR-15, runs over motorcycle at Rockwell-area gas station

Crime

Salisbury man charged with exploitation of minor

Crime

Road rage incident results in assault charges

Local

Dukeville lead testing results trickle in, more participation needed

Education

Faith Academy interviewing staff, preparing site for fall opening

News

Volunteers work around obstacles, alter procedures to offer free tax services to those in need

Education

Education shoutouts

Local

Retired Marine gets recognition for toy collection efforts

Local

March issue of Salisbury the Magazine is now available

Education

Five get Dunbar School Heritage Scholarships

Education

Education briefs: Salisbury Academy fourth-graders think big as inventors

Education

Bakari Sellers keynote speaker at Livingstone College Founder’s Day program