WILMINGTON, Del. — Joe Biden is hammering President Donald Trump’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak ahead of a planned trip to Wisconsin, a pivotal swing state that’s become a focal point for political debate over protest-related violence, police treatment of people of color and the actions of vigilante militias.
Biden's itinerary reflects his efforts to keep the election spotlight on the president’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and the nation’s overall security, while Trump emphasizes civil unrest in Wisconsin and elsewhere.
Biden will be visiting Kenosha on Thursday, where there have been protests following the wounding of a Black man, Jacob Blake, who was shot seven times in the back by police as he was trying to get into a car while police were trying to arrest him.
Trump on Tuesday used the unrest to underscore his blanket support for law enforcement, blaming “domestic terror” for looting and arson that’s taken place in the city. The violence included the burning of several buildings and the killing of two protesters by a 17-year-old, who said he went to Kenosha to help protect businesses, and is now in custody.
On Wednesday, meanwhile, Biden and his wife, Jill, a longtime community college professor and former high school teacher, are meeting with public health experts in their home town of Wilmington, Delaware, to talk about school reopening options. Then Biden will deliver remarks – his second speech in three days to excoriate Trump – outlining his ideas and accusing the president of making the country less safe.
The Wilmington event is the latest in a series of dueling efforts by Trump and Biden to cast the other as a threat to Americans’ day-to-day security. It serves to highlight their vastly different arguments, with Trump using “law and order” as his rallying cry and Biden pushing a broad referendum on Trump’s competence.
“President Trump has no plan,” said Biden adviser Symone Sanders, previewing the former vice president’s remarks on schools and the pandemic. “Instead, he thinks that a fear-mongering campaign stoking violence is going to help him.”
Biden, she said, “is demonstrating what a safe America could look like” by talking to experts about school options in a pandemic while Trump tries to capitalize on the fact that some racial justice protests have led to property damage or turned into violent clashes with counter-protesters.
Ahead of his Wisconsin trip, Biden’s campaign has launched a $45 million advertising buy for a one-minute ad featuring his condemnations of violence during a speech Monday, along with his assertions that Trump is “fomenting” the unrest. The ad, which has English and Spanish language versions, is running on national cable networks and in local markets across Arizona, Florida, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.
“Violence will not bring change. It will only bring destruction,” Biden says in the ad. Trump “adds fuel to every fire,” he says, and “shows how weak he is” by “his failure to call on his own supporters to stop acting as an armed militia.”
Trump put his approach on display again Tuesday with his own trip to Kenosha. The president praised local law enforcement and toured a block charred by protesters’ fire. He called the destruction “anti-American” and suggested Biden’s election would ensure similar scenes in U.S. cities across the country. It was the latest rendition of a theme voiced throughout the Republican National Convention: “You won't be safe in Joe Biden's America.”
Trump again did not condemn the 17-year-old charged in the killings of two protesters in Kenosha, and he again rejected that systemic racism plays any part in U.S. society.
On Wednesday, Sanders previewed the retort to Trump and the pivot Biden was expected to deliver later that day. “To be clear, we are currently living in Donald Trump’s America, and folks have to ask themselves across the country: Are you safe?” she said. With the U.S. COVID-19 death toll nearing 190,000, Sanders declared the answer is “unequivocally” no.
Trump’s advisers argue that his stance – which includes falsely accusing Biden of championing violent protesters and wanting to “defund the police” — shifts attention away from the pandemic. They also believe the tactics help Trump attract white voters in suburbs and exurbs, key slices of his 2016 coalition. Trump won Wisconsin by less than 23,000 votes out of more than 1.9 million in 2016, the first Republican to win the state since Ronald Reagan in 1984.
This will be the first time since 2012 that a Democratic presidential candidate campaigns in Wisconsin. Hillary Clinton did not campaign in the state after she lost the primary in 2016, one of the reasons often cited for Trump’s narrow victory.
White House spokesman Brian Morgenstern said Biden is playing politics by traveling to Wisconsin; Trump himself said ahead of his Wisconsin trip that his own travel could “increase enthusiasm.” The president, meanwhile, took to Twitter to repeat his mockery of Biden for anchoring his campaign from Delaware during the pandemic. Before Biden's campaign confirmed his Wisconsin itinerary, Trump wrote: “Joe Biden is a Low Energy Candidate the likes of which we have never seen before. ... He’s back in his basement now - no schedule!” Trump was to campaign Wednesday in North Carlolina.
Some Democrats have quietly worried that recent violence might boost Trump’s prospects. Biden’s team insists he simply must counter with steady warnings that Trump is dangerously inept. They see that as an umbrella argument for any number of scenarios – including a discussion of how to reopen schools.
Trump’s cries of “law-and-order” and “radical leftists” might work, said Biden’s campaign co-chairman Cedric Richmond, “if he was the only one talking.” But the Louisiana congressman said Biden has a megaphone, too, and that Trump, even as a “p.r. master,” cannot erase Americans’ own realities on coronavirus, systemic racism or anything else."
“Look, you can’t argue that the country is so screwed up only you can fix it when you’ve been president for almost four years,” Richmond said in an interview. “His argument is basically, ‘I broke the country. Now reelect me so I can fix it.’”