President Trump has decided that the central issue of the presidential campaign should now be the violence that has broken out in Portland and Kenosha, putting a small handful of left-wing black-bloc demonstrators against right-wing militias. Joe Biden has opposed violence, looting, and arson all along. Today he gave yet another speech confirming his complete opposition to these acts of destruction.
The conservative intelligentsia, faced with the inconvenient reality that Biden has decided not to suddenly abandon his lifelong political identity and endorse Antifa, immediately formulated a different interpretation: Biden is blackmailing the country! Actual, paid conservative commentators are saying this! Lots of them:
Trump endorsed this absurd theory at his press conference. “Biden is using mafia talking points – the mob will leave you alone if you go along, ,” he announced.”
The “blackmail” interpretation ignores the obvious context that Biden has opposed violent tactics all along, that the violent protesters have no connection to him, and that — generally speaking — they hate him. (In fact, the street brawlers who show up at protests are to the left of the people who are to the left of the people who are even willing to vote for Biden as the lesser neoliberal evil.) The “blackmail” theory likewise ignores the facts that President Trump has long been stoking violence — despite having campaigned on the promise that he could and would stop violence — and that he refuses to disavow the Trump supporters who have shown up to demonstrations armed with weapons looking to shoot it out. Right up to today:
The blackmail theory instead assumes that Biden controls the violent protests. Indeed, Biden’s insidious blackmail message only works if the audience shares this belief. The theory suggests that Biden is like a mob boss, the protesters are his soldiers, and he will only call off the attacks if he wins. Otherwise, Biden will remain squired away in his basement lair for four more years, directing legions of fanatic Biden bros into the streets to commit more mayhem.
One might wonder why Biden would undertake such a risky strategy. After all, he has been leading in the polls throughout the entire campaign — in part because of his appeal as a mainstream political veteran who will do normal things. You’d think pivoting from the theme of “restoring the soul of America” to a message of threatening to terrorize the country with his political goon squad would constitute a high-risk departure from that strategy.
Well, maybe the answer is that the real polls show that Biden is losing, and now he is completely desperate. Or maybe Biden has been playing the very long game. He pretended to sit out the protests in the 1960s by posing as a sport-coat-clad square, spent decades working within the system, and now is revealing that his plan all along was to seize control of the government by unleashing a secret network of poorly-armed, anarchist-cosplaying dweebs.
And, crucially, he will say he opposes the violence, but — like a mobster saying it would be a shame if your store burned down — his targets will know perfectly well he doesn’t oppose it. They will see the real message: Give Uncle Joe what he wants, or their local restaurant gets it.
This post has been updated.