Republicans aggressively defended law enforcement on the third night of their convention, as the nation faced renewed tensions following the police shooting of a Black man in Wisconsin that sparked protests in a state that could decide the fall election.
Vice-President Mike Pence, the evening’s featured speaker, seized on the national reckoning over racial injustice to argue that Democratic leaders are allowing lawlessness to prevail in cities from coast to coast. He and others described cities wracked by violence, though protests in most locations have been largely peaceful.
“The American people know we don’t have to choose between supporting law enforcement and standing with African American neighbours to improve the quality of life in our cities and towns,” he said in remarks released before his appearance. He also assailed Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden for saying there is an “implicit bias” against minorities and “systemic racism” in the U.S.
“The hard truth is … you won’t be safe in Joe Biden’s America,” Pence said. “Let me be clear: The violence must stop — whether in Minneapolis, Portland, or Kenosha,” he added. “Too many heroes have died defending our freedom to see Americans strike each other down.”
“The American people know we don’t have to choose between supporting law enforcement and standing with our African American neighbours to improve the quality of their lives, education, jobs and safety.”
But Pence never mentioned Blake, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor or other Black people who have been killed by police this year.
Meanwhile, the steady image Republicans were aiming to portray of President Donald Trump at the convention was running into a turbulent outside reality: the police shooting of Jacob Blake, a 29-year-old Black man, in Kenosha, Wisconsin, the potentially catastrophic hurricane bearing down on the Gulf Coast, wildfires that have ravaged huge areas of California and the still-raging coronavirus pandemic that is killing more than 1,000 Americans a day.
The historic convergence of health, economic, environmental and social emergencies is only increasing the pressure on Trump, as he looks to reshape the contours of his lagging campaign against former Vice President Biden with Election Day just 10 weeks off and early voting beginning much sooner.
Pence, the chair of the White House coronavirus task force, did defend the administration’s handling of the pandemic, a political liability that was otherwise largely absent from the convention program.
The convention lineup included speakers who have been at odds with the Black Lives Matter movement, including a St. Louis couple who brandished guns and the Kentucky attorney general who has not yet filed charges in the death of a woman killed by police.
But the program Wednesday night lacked many major headline speakers, other than the vice-president and few boldface names. And it lacked some of the production elements that had made previous nights memorable, including slickly produced videos and surprise announcements, such as an unexpected presidential pardon and a citizenship ceremony.
But there was tough talk.
“From Seattle and Portland to Washington and New York, Democrat-run cities across this country are being overrun by violent mobs,” contended South Dakota Gov Kristi Noem. “People that can afford to flee have fled. But the people that can’t — good, hard-working Americans —are left to fend for themselves.”
Pence opened his remarks with a word of warning to those in the path of Hurricane Laura, which was forecast to make landfall overnight on the Gulf Coast at the Louisiana-Texas border. Despite the expected devastation, campaign officials insisted Trump would still deliver his acceptance address Thursday evening as planned.
“This is a serious storm,” Pence said. “And we urge all those in the affected areas to heed state and local authorities. Stay safe, and know that we’ll be with you every step of the way to support, rescue, respond, and recover in the days and weeks ahead.”
Adding another controversial element, late Wednesday the NBA postponed three playoff games after the Milwaukee Bucks refused to take the court for their game following the shooting of Blake. The WNBA and Milwaukee Brewers quickly followed suit with their Wednesday games.
That was a few hours before Pence was to speak from Baltimore’s Fort McHenry, where an 1814 battle inspired the National Anthem. Trump has strongly criticized athletes who kneel rather than stand during the anthem in protest of racial injustice.
Appeal to Black voters
Several speakers also sought to paint Trump as the champion for African Americans, sometimes making unsubstantiated accusations against Biden.
A Black conservative running for a Utah congressional seat said the U.S. needs more leaders like Trump who stand by their principles, won’t compromise and who “will stand up to the lawlessness supported by the radical left.”
Burgess Owens decried civil unrest that’s followed some racial injustice protests and said the country is at a crossroads.
“Mobs torch our cities while popular members of Congress promote the same socialism my father fought against in World War II,” he said.
Jack Brewer, a former professional football player and a member of Black Voices for Trump, said that not liking Trump’s tone was not enough to merit a vote for his Democratic rival.
“So because you have an issue with President Trump’s tone, you’re going to allow Biden and [running mate Kamala] Harris to deny our under-served Black and brown children school choice?” said Brewer.
NPR reported late Tuesday that Brewer had been charged with insider trading by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission this month. Earlier, the campaign would not say definitively whether he would speak
WATCH | Part of Brewer’s appeal to voters of colour:
Clarence Henderson, who participated in the 1960 Greensboro, North Carolina, Woolworth lunch counter sit-ins, discussed peaceful protest and the president’s record of trying to help Black Americans.
“These achievements demonstrate that Donald Trump truly cares about black lives,” Henderson said. “His policies show his heart. He has done more for black Americans in four years than Joe Biden has done in 50.”
Law and Order
Convention speakers were also reinforcing Trump’s law-and-order message, warning that electing Biden would lead to violence in American cities spilling into the suburbs, a message with racist undertones. Trump on Wednesday tweeted about sending federal agents to Kenosha to help quell unrest, and the Justice Department said it was sending in the FBI and federal marshals.
Michael McHale, the president of the National Association of Police Organizations, told the convention: “The violence we are seeing in these and other cities isn’t happening by chance; it’s the direct result of elected leaders refusing to allow law enforcement to protect our communities.”
Trump’s campaign believes his aggressive response will help him with suburban women voters who may be concerned by the protests — though it may only deepen his deficit with Black voters.
High-profile female supporters
Two of Trump’s most high-profile female aides — departing counsellor Kellyanne Conway, the manager of Trump’s 2016 general election campaign, and press secretary Kayleigh McEnany — both delivered speeches aimed at softening Trump’s image and reinforcing his support for women.
McEnany, who has a nine-month-old child, said, “I want my daughter to grow up in President Donald Trump’s America.”
And Conway, who once extolled the virtues of “alternative facts” to support her case, spoke of “everyday heroes” Wednesday night. But she also said Trump has worked to help those most in need in the United States, and to support and elevate women.
“He has elevated women to senior positions in business and in government. He confides in and consults us, respects our opinions, and insists that we are on equal footing with the men.”
WATCH | Conway delivers one last speech as part of Trump’s White House:
Adding to the sense of convention uncertainty, another speaker was abruptly pulled from the lineup. The Trump campaign confirmed that Robert Unanue, the president and CEO of Goya Foods, would not be speaking Wednesday night, citing a “logistical problem.” Unanue’s appearance at the White House earlier this month and his praise of Trump sparked a boycott of his company’s products.
Organizers on Tuesday had pulled another featured speaker, Mary Ann Mendoza, after she directed her Twitter followers to a series of anti-Semitic, conspiratorial messages hours before her pre-recorded segment was to air.
The night’s lineup is expected to include Clarence Henderson — who participated in the 1960 Greensboro, N.C., Woolworth lunch counter sit-ins — for what Trump’s team said would be a discussion of “peaceful protest.”