(CNN) — Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and President Donald Trump go head-to-head on the hypersensitive issues of civic violence and racial justice at a potentially decisive moment for the White House in a suddenly electrified battle.
At a stark moment in modern American political history, rivals are emerging from conventions that offered markedly different visions of the future, with each campaign day becoming more and more crucial, as some states prepare to start sending absentee ballots in the next few. weeks.
Biden will deliver a speech in Pittsburgh on Monday asking the question, “Are you safe in Donald Trump’s America?” The president, despite pleas from the Wisconsin governor not to do so, will travel to the violence-ravaged city of Kenosha on Tuesday.
The president is painting an inaccurate picture of a nation consumed by street violence as he seeks to repair his position among white suburban voters. Far from defusing the situation, he appears to be inciting unrest, for example, praising a convoy of supporters heading to restless Portland, Oregon, as “Great Patriots.” He also “liked” a Twitter post that encouraged people to read a thread of tweets that in part praised Kyle Rittenhouse, a 17-year-old accused of allegedly killing two protesters in Kenosha. Meanwhile, Biden accuses the president of fanning the flames of violence and dividing the country for political ends.
“This president has long lost all moral leadership in this country. It cannot stop the violence, because for years it has fomented it, “the former vice president is expected to say in his speech, according to excerpts released by his campaign.
“He may think that pronouncing the words law and order makes him strong, but the fact that he has not asked his own followers to stop acting as an armed militia in this country shows how weak he is.”
“Does anyone think there will be less violence in the United States if Donald Trump is re-elected?”
Trump’s involvement in the attacks means there is a binary choice between supporting law enforcement and order, and offering understanding and a path to justice for the black population. His strategy follows a deeply deceptive Republican convention that relied on “law and order” to distract from the deaths of more than 180,000 Americans in the mishandled coronavirus pandemic.
The debate between Biden and Trump over protests and race is also playing out against an extraordinary national reckoning that is causing hard-to-measure shifts in policy, which last week saw NBA players and other athletes stop playing. play in an extraordinary demand for justice and police reform.
The political recriminations worsened dramatically over the weekend, regarding Kenosha, where police shot a black man, Jacob Blake, seven times in the back a week earlier. In the clashes in Portland, a man, apparently a member of a far-right organization, was shot and killed.
LOOK: Portland: what we know about the death of a man during the protests
Biden is under increasing pressure to mount a high-profile response to Trump’s searing attacks that call him the tool of left-wing anarchists and activists in the movement to defund the Police – »Defund the Police» – during a summer of protests and riots following the death of George Floyd who died when a police officer pinned him by putting his knee to his neck last May.
In an aggressive move the Sunday before his speech, the Democratic candidate issued a statement accusing the president of “fanning the flames of hatred and division in our society” and asked him to condemn all forms of violence.
An effective speech and follow-up measures by Biden could allay Democrats’ fears that a radical law-and-order Republican campaign could eat away at Biden’s leadership in the polls, but it also offers insight into how Biden might lead as president. . It is an opportunity for him to show his capacity for empathy and to bring people together, and offer a possible route out of another crisis that Trump seems unable or unwilling to provide.
The president’s attempt to move the electoral struggle onto what he believes to be more favorable terrain coincides with new indications of how he plans to use the power of his office in an attempt to secure a second term. Democrats reacted with outrage Sunday after the Director of National Intelligence said he would stop in-person briefings for lawmakers on election security. And Dr. Stephen Hahn, head of the Federal Drug Administration, added his concern that the White House is putting politics before science when he raised the possibility in the Financial Times of an emergency use authorization for a coronavirus vaccine. before Phase 3 trials are completed.
Trump campaign says protesters are ‘terrorists’ and Biden sympathizers
The exchanges between the two campaigns on Sunday’s talk shows shed light on how each candidate plans to respond to an extraordinary national moment in the tense days ahead, and where they see responsibilities to exploit in their rivals.
Trump and his campaign are behaving as if they think they have Biden restrained. The Democratic nominee has strongly aligned himself with the Black Lives Matter protests, prompting Trump to argue that he is promoting or being a tool of looters who have burned parts of American cities. Biden has condemned violence on all sides, and despite the efforts of Trump and his cheerleaders in the conservative media, there is evidence that violence is not just the work of far-left groups and that far-right anarchist organizations they are also involved.
But in the frenzy of a presidential campaign that is in its last stages, those distinctions are ignored. “Make no mistake: these are left-wing terrorists and voters of Joe Biden,” Trump’s campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh tweeted Sunday after the president said at a savage rally in New Hampshire on Friday that: “Today’s Democratic Party is full of hatred … not protesters. They are not protesters … they are agitators, they are rioters, they are looters.
The president’s strategy was exposed in a comment by his outgoing adviser Kellyanne Conway last week when he told Fox News that “the more chaos, anarchy, vandalism and violence reign, the better news for the very clear choice of who is the best. in public safety and law and order.
On CNN’s “State of the Union” Sunday, Trump supporter and Republican Senator from Wisconsin Ron Johnson declined the opportunity to specifically convict the alleged vigilante who killed two protesters in Kenosha, saying repeatedly that “the whole situation “Was a” tragedy. “
I don’t want anyone to lose their life. I don’t want the violence to continue. I don’t want businesses to burn. I don’t want to see economic destruction. I condemn everything, ”Johnson told CNN’s Dana Bash. Trump has yet to condemn the police shooting of Blake, who survived but is currently partially paralyzed. The president has called for an investigation.
At the Republican convention, the Trump campaign largely framed the protests and violence as natural, rather than a consequence of the despair of African Americans amid repeated instances of police brutality. And on Sunday, he retweeted a video of Trump supporters in a convoy heading to downtown Portland, calling them “Great Patriots.”
On NBC’s “Meet the Press,” White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows made the bizarre claim that “Donald Trump’s majority of America is peaceful,” seeking to blame Democratic governors and mayors for not put a stop to the unrest, but leave the impression that the president is not leading the entire country.
The Democratic mayor of Portland, in turn, said Sunday that it is Trump who “created hatred and division” in an unwavering attack on the White House after the riots there. “Are you seriously wondering, Mr. President, why this is the first time in decades that America has seen this level of violence?” Mayor Ted Wheeler said, speaking at a news conference.
The president’s trip to Kenosha runs the risk of further exacerbating the situation, particularly after the state’s Democratic governor wrote him a letter urging him to reconsider, but will offer Trump a chance to be with police officers and introduce himself. as a bulwark against what he claims extremist violence is sweeping the nation.
Democrats warn that the trip will show that he seeks to exploit the unrest for his own personal political gain. “I believe your visit has one purpose, and one purpose only. And that’s shaking things up and making them worse, “California Rep. Karen Bass, a Biden supporter, said on” State of the Union. ” Biden’s advisers had also been considering a trip to Kenosha, but a campaign official said they did not want Biden’s visit to be disruptive or lead to further criticism of Trump, CNN’s Sarah Mucha and Jeff Zeleny reported Sunday.
But Biden responded to that criticism in other ways. He used Trump’s encouragement to supporters who are at risk of exacerbating the unrest as an example of why he is unfit for the Oval Office and should be denied a second term.
“You may believe that tweeting about law and order makes you strong, but your inability to ask your supporters to stop seeking conflict shows how weak you are,” Biden said in his statement Sunday. “You may think the war on our streets is good for your reelection chances, but that’s not presidential leadership, not even basic human compassion.”
– CNN’s Paul LeBlanc contributed to this report.