WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump will travel Tuesday to Kenosha, Wisconsin, despite accusations from Democrats that he’s trying to take advantage of the turmoil there to rally supporters around his law-and-order campaign message.
Kenosha is the latest flashpoint in violent protests after the police shooting Aug. 23 of Jacob Blake, a Black father who was left paralyzed from the waist down. Kyle Rittenhouse, 17, was charged with shooting to death two people during the ensuing protests.
On the eve of the visit, Trump defended Rittenhouse, embracing the argument from the suspect’s attorney that he was acting in self-defense.
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said Trump wants to go to Kenosha to highlight the federal response to the unrest and to visit “hurting Americans.”
Trump is expected to review property damage but has no plans to meet with Blake or his family.
Thursday, Trump formally accepted his party’s nomination for president in a speech that laid out a central attack line for his campaign: accusing the Democratic Party of standing with “anarchists, agitators, rioters, looters and flag burners.”
Trump claimed that a victory Nov. 3 by Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden would usher in an era of lawlessness. “No one will be safe in Biden’s America,” the president said.
Biden accused Trump of “rooting for chaos and violence.”
“Fires are burning, and we have a president who fans the flames rather than fighting the flames,” Biden said Monday in Pittsburgh. “Donald Trump looks at this violence, and he sees a political lifeline.”
Democratic state and local leaders urged Trump not to come to Kenosha. In a letter to the president, Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers said, “I am concerned your presence will only hinder our healing.”
Evers wrote he is concerned the visit “will require a massive redirection” of resources to support the president’s visit “when it is critical that we continue to remain focused on keeping the people of Kenosha safe and supporting the community’s response.”
Trump’s Kenosha visit:President has no plans to meet with Jacob Blake’s family
Political analysts described the Wisconsin trip as risky, especially if Trump says or does something that is seen as inciting counterdemonstrators.
“People are watching and waiting for Trump to make a mistake,” pollster Frank Luntz said. “The pressure is definitely on him.”
Trump’s backers said it is Biden who uses the protests for political advantage.
In a phone call organized by the Trump campaign, Michael Slupe, the sheriff in Butler County, Pennsylvania, told reporters that Biden turned his back on law enforcement and blames police officers for the country’s problems.
“The people that are protesting now are not President Trump supporters – they are Joe Biden supporters,” Slupe said. “They are ruining America.”
Pat Lynch, president of New York City’s Police Benevolent Association, accused Biden “of siding with the rioters” because “he needs to cozy up to everyone on the left wing.”
‘It’s surreal in the worst possible way:’Kenosha reels after Jacob Blake shooting, unrest
Trump needs to be careful about how he frames the police-and-protester issues, analysts said, both in Kenosha and in the two months remaining before Election Day.
If the president talks about the challenges in terms of “public safety,” Luntz said, he will probably benefit because that’s what voters want.
But Trump has too often cast events as “law and order” issues, Luntz said, and that could help Biden because “that says to the public that the police can operate with impunity, and that’s not what the public wants.”
Charles Franklin, director of the Marquette Law School Poll, noted that Trump has made the protests an issue all summer and it does not seem to have moved the polls much.
The evidence indicates that the police-and-protester issues are more important to Republican voters than Democrats or independents, he said, and could help only with his base.
It’s too early to say whether events in Kenosha will affect things in Wisconsin, an important state to both campaigns.
“As always,” he said, “it remains to be seen.”
Four years ago, Trump became the first Republican since 1988 to carry Wisconsin, and the state is one of a handful of battlegrounds that could decide the election this year.
A Marquette Law School poll in early August – before the conventions – gave Biden a 49%-44% lead over Trump.
The shooting of Blake was the latest in a string of police shootings that have roiled the nation in recent months.
Protests in Kenosha included window-smashing and vandalism of businesses, which drew criticism from Trump and others.
A person who appears to be Rittenhouse, the 17-year-old charged with the shooting deaths of two protesters in Kenosha, described himself in a video as a part of a citizen militia dedicated to protecting the city.
Referring to cell phone video of the shooting, Trump told reporters on Monday that Rittenhouse was “trying to get away from them, I guess, it looks like” and said that protesters “violently attacked him.” Trump repeatedly noted the shooting remained under investigation but also appeared to lean into Rittenhouse’s self-defense argument.
Several former classmates of Rittenhouse at Lakes Community High School in Antioch told VICE News they remembered him as short-tempered and easily offended. He was known for his love of the police, guns and Trump, they said.
In seeking to make urban unrest a political issue, Trump has criticized Democratic leaders in Portland, Oregon, and other cities, threatening to send federal forces into those places.
Trump supporters mounted their own demonstrations over the weekend in Portland. One man, believed to be a Trump supporter, was killed after a series of melees.
Trump picked up the support of another law enforcement group Monday when the National Troopers Coalition, which represents state troopers and highway patrol officers, endorsed his reelection.
The organization’s chairman, Jimmy Chavez, praised Trump in an endorsement letter for taking an “unwavering stance against those who attack the very men and women that are willing to give their lives to protect others.”