- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 27, 2020

Top Democrats scrambled to adopt a tougher approach this week to riots that have broken out in cities across the country, casting a worried eye at President Trump’s rising poll numbers, which experts said were driven at least partly by his law-and-order message.

Americans tell pollsters they are tiring of the clashes that have broken out on a nearly nightly basis in Portland for the last three months, and the riots that have seen a resurgence in the Midwest this week.

“They say, ‘I’m not for that,’” said Robert C. Cahaly, chief pollster at the Trafalgar Group, a political and corporate market research firm. “The narrative that we cannot let this chaos reign, there is a lot of people that agree with that.”

Democratic presidential nominee Joseph R. Biden decried the new outbreak of violence in Wisconsin this week, while in Oregon both the governor and mayor of Portland said a string of nightly riots had to come to an end.

“Enough is enough,” said Mayor Ted Wheeler, who just a month ago joined the protesters outside the federal courthouse in his city to show solidarity — and got tear-gassed along with them.

But after the protests hit home this week, smashing into city hall and spraying anti-cop and anti-Wheeler messages on the wall, the mayor said Wednesday night that the city needs to put a stop to it.

“The current national depiction of our city as a dark dystopia with nonstop violence is a lie. But we also have to be honest with ourselves, even as those around us, the president in particular, traffic in dishonest in an attempt to stoke fear,” he said. “The honesty is the acknowledgment that we as a city are helping to feed and fire the hysteria.

“I put myself at the top of that list,” the left-wing Democrat said.

Mr. Trump has indeed seized on the images of barricaded streets and fires lit in dumpsters to describe Portland as out of control — and to tie that to gun violence in cities like Chicago.

He has vowed to send federal law enforcement where he can and has told Oregon Gov. Kate Brown she should request the National Guard to quell unrest in her state. She’s rebuffed that overture.

But Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat, did request the guard amid ongoing unrest in Kenosha after a video of the police shooting a black man went viral over the weekend.

Mr. Cahaly, who has been surveying Rust Belt states this month, said voters have become exhausted with the clashes tied to the Black Lives Matter movement. Though they aren’t a fan of Mr. Trump’s rhetoric, they’re increasingly agreeing with his law-and-order messaging.

“In multiple battleground states, we found that voters believed the BLM moment has made race relations worse instead of better by a margin exceeding 10%,” he told The Washington Times.

Other surveys have found the same thing.

John Zogby, another pollster, said that Mr. Trump hit his highest-ever approval ratings at 52%.

“It’s highly likely he is benefiting from the uptick in violence. His law and order message is resonating with urban voters at the moment,” Mr. Zogby wrote in his polling analysis Wednesday.

And a Marquette poll surveying Wisconsin voters released Thursday revealed approval of Black Lives Matter has dropped dramatically since June, from 61% approval and 36% disapproval to 48% approval and disapproval now.

Mr. Trump barely won Wisconsin — by less than 1% — in 2016. It was one of the Rust Belt states where his triumph delivered the White House, and the GOP is desperate to hold those to prevent Mr. Biden from upsetting his electoral map.

G. Terry Madonna, director of the Center for Politics and Public Affairs at Franklin and Marshall College, said Democrats could be concerned about losing some support from suburban women, typically a strong part of their base.

The Democratic National Convention gave scant attention to the violence last week, instead choosing to focus on the message of Black Lives Matter and vowing reforms to policing and broader race relations.

The most liberal wing of the Democratic Party has adopted BLM’s call to “defund police,” and several cities with Democratic mayors and councils have already reduced police budgets.

But party leaders said they realized calls for racial justice, the vast majority of which have been peaceful marches, were being drowned out by the images of street violence.

“Needless violence won’t heal us,” Mr. Biden said on Twitter. “We need to end the violence — and peacefully come together to demand justice.”

On Thursday, Mr. Biden sought to go on the offensive, saying the violence right now is happening on Mr. Trump’s watch.

“These are images from Donald Trump’s America today. The violence we’re witnessing is happening under Donald Trump. Not me. It’s getting worse, and we know why,” he said in a statement. “Donald Trump refuses to even acknowledge there is a racial justice problem in America.”

Democratic Party cheerleaders had been begging Mr. Biden to respond. Don Lemon, a CNN host, had warned earlier this week that the violence was beginning to hurt Mr. Biden in the polls.

But Chris Haynes, a political science professor at the University of New Haven, said there are other reasons the presidential polls are tightening, and crime isn’t a top election issue that motivates voters to head to the polls.

“It’s more about the economy, it’s more about healthcare, it’s more about COVID,” he said.

Indeed, polls show that in addition to wearying of the racial justice protests, people are increasingly tiring of COVID-19 pandemic restrictions.

That could be boosting Mr. Trump, who has been the most vocal voice calling for states to reopen and schools to open their doors.

Mr. Cahaly said his swing state polls show north of 65% of parents are ready to put their children back into school.

“That is why we think Trump is going to continue to grow,” he said.

Democrats spent much of their convention last week complaining about Mr. Trump’s handling of the virus and blaming him for the death toll. Mr. Biden made waves by saying he would shut the economy down again if he felt it necessary to stop the virus.

• Alex Swoyer can be reached at aswoyer@washingtontimes.com.

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