republican national convention

RNC Warns That If Biden Wins, Things Will Be As Bad As They Are Now

Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

“I have a message to every last person threatening the peace on our streets and the safety of our police,” Donald Trump said from the stage of the 2016 Republican National Convention. “When I take the oath of office next year, I will restore law and order to our country. Believe me.”

Four years later, the GOP spent the bulk of its 2020 convention demonstrating that the president failed to keep this promise.

The final night of the RNC, like all the ones before it, reflected the strategic logic that presidential adviser Kellyanne Conway had articulated on Fox & Friends Thursday morning: “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.”

The acts of arson, theft, and property destruction (politically motivated and otherwise) that have proliferated alongside this summer’s Black Lives Matter protests earned a mention in nearly every after speech Thursday night. A lament from the widow of  a police officer killed amid unrest in St. Louis was undeniable in its emotional potency (if dubious in its ethics). An explosion of bile from prodigiously sweaty, suspected criminal Rudy Guiliani was less effective, but more telling.

“Murders, shootings, and violent crime are increasing at percentages unheard of in the past,” Guiliani said of New York City, during Trump’s time in office. “These continuous riots in Democratic cities gives you a good view of the future under Biden.”

The riots transpiring in cities right now — on Donald Trump’s watch — gives us a view of the future under Biden.

Of course, the fact that the cities in question have overwhelmingly Democratic municipal governments is supposed to let Trump have his incumbency and “change candidate” status too. And perhaps, on a political level, this gambit will work. If it wasn’t clear four years ago that the stupidity or cynicism of a political tactic has no bearing on its efficacy, it is now.

But what is the logic of Guiliani’s argument supposed to be? Is the assumption here that if Trump is reelected, Republican mayors will ride to power in every major city on his coattails? Anyone with a rudimentary understanding of contemporary American politics knows that that idea is ridiculous. But then — if we stipulate that Democratic mayors are still going to preside over New York, Baltimore, Minneapolis, and St. Louis in 2021 — isn’t Trump’s failure to bring “law and order” to those places this year a damning indictment of his capacity to do so next year? We have already given Trump a chance to use the powers of the presidency to advance social peace and the rule of law in Democratic cities. And by his own account, and that of virtually every person who spoke on his behalf this week, Trump has failed miserably at that objective.

Perhaps the implication is that, under a Democratic president, the unrest would spread from the urban core all the way to the Republican exurbs. But the mechanism for how Biden would bring this about is unclear; or at least, it is unclear if one does not pretend that the Democratic nominee has called for defunding the police. In reality, Biden has called for increasing federal funding for police departments by $300 million — while the Trump administration has itself proposed nearly half-a-billion dollars in cuts to law enforcement funding. Biden does, however, support a variety of reforms that would make it more difficult for individual police officers to get away with shooting unarmed people in the back — and for entire police departments to get away with systematically violating the civil rights of their constituents.

This constitutes the actual substantive disagreement between the two major party candidates. Trump’s Justice Department has curtailed federal oversight of abusive police departments, which the Obama administration had pursued aggressively in its second term. Meanwhile, the president has himself openly advocated for police brutality. It would be glib to draw a simple causal relationship between Trump’s rhetoric and policies and this summer’s unrest in cities across the U.S. But it remains the case that (1) this president relaxed federal oversight of local policing, while verbally giving abusive cops the green light to get “tough” on marginalized populations; (2) cops then committed egregious killings of unarmed Black people while Trump was in office; (3) the White House largely ignored the calls for justice that those killings spurred; and {4) by Rudy Giuliani’s account, “murders” and rioting proceeded to go up, relative to their levels when Barack Obama was in office.

All of which is to say: It is not clear why the violence in America’s cities in recent weeks is supposed to be a liability for Joe Biden rather than for Donald Trump. And the RNC did not offer a cogent argument for this proposition, beyond baselessly asserting that Biden is an anarchist (in between portraying him as a draconian architect of mass incarceration). Politically, the combination of Trump’s demagogic lies, and the median voter’s predisposition to trust Republicans on the issue of urban crime, may enable the president to extract political benefit from the violence he is presiding over. But, “What is happening right now would never happen if the current president became president” really shouldn’t be a winning message in any self-respecting republic.

RNC Warns That If Biden Wins, the Future Will Be Like Today