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Why Trump's tough-on-crime message is not breaking through in suburban America

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By Tim Reid

As President Donald Trump's support in the U.S. suburbs erodes amid concerns about his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, he has returned to a familiar campaign theme: trying to scare voters away from backing Democrat Joe Biden in November.

From deploying federal agents to confront protesters in cities such as Portland, Oregon, to releasing ads portraying a lawless and dangerous America under a Biden presidency, Trump has positioned himself as the candidate who will keep the country safe.

But Reuters/Ipsos polling this month shows white suburban Americans are far more worried about the economy and healthcare than crime, a sign that Trump's strategy could be at odds with the priorities of the critical voting bloc he narrowly won in 2016 and must win back to secure a second term.

Asked what is “the most important problem facing the United States today,” 21% said the economy and 21% said healthcare. Only 6% said crime, according to the July 15-21 national opinion poll, which included 1,603 U.S. adults who identified as white and living in the suburbs.

But concern about COVID-19 and Trump's management of it ran deep.

Among white Americans in the suburbs, 81% said they were personally concerned about the spread of the virus. Forty-one percent of those suburban white Americans approved of the way Trump has handled the coronavirus, down 12 points from a similar poll that ran in March.

While 42% of all Americans thought Biden would be better at dealing with COVID-19 compared with 33% who said Trump was better, white suburban Americans were more closely split over which candidate was better equipped to lead the nation out of the crisis, with 40% saying Trump and 38% saying Biden.

The data suggests Trump, who trails Biden in national polls, could shore up his support in the suburbs and improve his chances of winning the Nov. 3 election with stronger leadership on the health and economic crises rather than doubling down on assertions that the country would be less safe with Biden in the White House.

"His law-and-order message seems more geared towards resuscitating his base than winning over swing suburbanites," said Dave Wasserman, a non-partisan analyst with the Cook Political Report. "There is no way Trump can win the election unless he turns around his numbers on the handling of COVID."

The Republican president's advisers insist his tough-on-crime message resonates with suburban voters after months of protests over racial injustice and police brutality against Black Americans and calls from progressives to "defund" the police.

"The violence, the lawlessness, is sickening. This is what Joe Biden and the Democrats stand for," said Rick Gorka, a senior member of the Republican National Committee and part of Trump's re-election campaign. "Our data shows this is an extremely moving issue, especially with suburban voters and those that are undecided."

Gorka, who declined to share the data, said the president had been involved in the messaging and ad strategy.

Biden does not support defunding police departments. Yet one Trump campaign television ad that portrays an older woman being attacked by burglars while she waits on hold trying to call emergency services ends with the slogan: "You won't be safe in Joe Biden's America."

"Biden will destroy your neighborhood and your American Dream," Trump said in a tweet directed to "Suburban Housewives of America" last week. "I will preserve it, and make it even better!"

In his latest bid for suburban support, Trump said last week his administration was rescinding an Obama-era regulation aimed at combating discriminatory housing practices and segregation.

Critics attacked the move, with Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren describing it as "racist fear-mongering."

Trump's focus on fear echoes his 2016 campaign, when he depicted immigrants from Mexico as criminals. This time around, he warns of "anarchists and agitators" whom he says Democratic-led cities have been unable to control.

Oregon’s governor said on Wednesday the federal government had agreed to withdraw agents from Portland, while the Justice Department said it would send law enforcement officials to Cleveland, Milwaukee and Detroit - all in crucial battleground states - in an expansion of a separate program aimed at curtailing a surge of violent crime in some cities.

Kyle Kondik, a non-partisan analyst at the University of Virginia Center for Politics, believes Trump ordered federal police into Portland "to create scary images for suburban voters."

"But it's kind of beside the point. In order for the message to resonate, it needs to feel more relevant to more people," Kondik added.

According to Reuters/Ipsos polling, Trump’s net approval in the suburbs declined by 17 percentage points from March to July as the coronavirus swept the country. Biden leads Trump by 11 points in the suburbs, up from a 6-point advantage four months ago.

Trump is "stoking confrontation and conflict" to divert Americans' attention from his failed leadership on the pandemic, Biden spokesman TJ Ducklo said. "Clearly Americans aren't buying it."

Trump's response to the anti-racism demonstrations was viewed favorably by Republicans in a Reuters/Ipsos poll conducted on Monday and Tuesday, with 78% saying they approved, up from 67% in mid-June.

Suburban voters were more suspicious of his motives. Some 44% of suburban Americans said they thought the federal agents were being used for political purposes, while 37% thought they were mostly there to restore law and order.

Mary Aponte, 38, a mother in suburban Bucks County, Pennsylvania, said she was not a Trump supporter but agreed police need support and criminals should face consequences.

"I fear for what will happen in major cities if we get Biden in office when it comes to the police," she said, adding she remained conflicted about her choice in November because she also has sympathy for the Black Lives Matter movement.

Tricia Kalmar, a 45-year-old suburban mother in Delaware, Ohio, said she did not think Trump's law-and-order messaging would work in her community.

"I don’t feel like any of the moms here feel threatened by the protests," said Kalmar, who voted for Democrat Hillary Clinton in 2016 but has also regularly voted for Republicans."Even those who don’t support the protests, they are not concerned about their safety here in the suburbs."

© Thomson Reuters 2020.

©2020 GPlusMedia Inc.

14 Comments
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s President Donald Trump's support in the U.S. suburbs erodes amid concerns about his handling of the coronavirus pandemic,

Most Americans who voted in 2016 did not vote for Trump; most Americans today recognize he's been a failed 'wartime president', not only suburban Americans.

Most Americans probably also think Trump's sending heavily armed troops to attack peaceful demonstrators so he could have a photo-op of him holding a bible was way over the top.

Many Americans probably also do NOT want to see heavily armed special federal forces attacking US citizens.

Most Americans probably also think Trump's pardoning of convicted felon Roger Stone was something a banana republic dictator whose motto is 'for my friends everything , for my enemies the law' would do.

Most Americans are also aware of the allegations of Trump's criminal involvements throughout his life.

Most Americans probably want some variation of 'law and order' programs, but would prefer to have those programs led by someone who's honest and has a history of being law abiding.

3 ( +6 / -3 )

they said the same thing with Clinton, The silent majority I think will vote for Trump not because they like him but the other alternative is worse.

-7 ( +3 / -10 )

As with most elections, it is a combination of issues that will influence the final result. Crime is only one. People who say they know the American voter really don’t.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Racism is the main factor.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

Trump, who trails Biden in national polls,

"There is no way Trump can win the election unless he turns around his numbers on the handling of COVID."

Voter, about to cast his/her ballot:

Lessee....

I can vote for this third party candidate who has no chance to win...

I can vote for Joe Biden, who, in 36 years in the Senate and 8 years as vice president didn't do squat for the American people and now has dementia...

I can vote for Donald Trump, who despite all the opposition from the Democrats including Barack Obama, the media and the RINOS, got taxes cut for everyone and the economy roaring, is making progress on strengthening the southern border which even the Democrats had said was necessary until Trump brought it up, had the world's top two terrorists taken out, hasn't started any new wars and is making progress on getting U.S. troops out of Afghanistan and the Middle East, is getting NATO members to pay more of their fair share, negotiated a better trade deal to replace the awful NAFTA...

Donald Trump it is!

-6 ( +1 / -7 )

How does one take a tough-on-crime message seriously from a man who is himself awaiting criminal trial as soon as he is out of the White House?

5 ( +7 / -2 )

How does one take a tough-on-crime message seriously from a man who is himself awaiting criminal trial as soon as he is out of the White House?

What crimes has Trump committed? Be specific.

-5 ( +1 / -6 )

From deploying federal agents to confront protesters

As Congressman Nadler says “Violence? What violence?” Federal agents were deployed to protect federal property from violent attacks by anarchists & kindred spirits, not against protesters.

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

As the saying goes, "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me." The polls show that Americans have for the most part learned their lesson, and do not want to be fooled again.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

The polls show that Americans have for the most part learned their lesson, and do not want to be fooled again.

The polls had Hillary ahead. Aside from nutty California Trump won the popular vote in the other 49 states combined.

How does one take a tough-on-crime message seriously from a man who is himself awaiting criminal trial as soon as he is out of the White House?

I guess we're not going to get that list of crimes that Trump has committed from 1glenn.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

they said the same thing with Clinton, The silent majority I think will vote for Trump not because they like him but the other alternative is worse.

Yes and being that we just witnessed weeks of rampage, anarchist destruction and violence, with many celebrities and Dem leaders on record telling us that dealing with white supremacy is more important that corona, some even chanting burn it all down and defund the police, I think the silents will remain with Trump. I dont agree with all Trump says/does, but there is no way, no amount of money, not anything that would convince me to ever vote for a Dem. The *(&% show they performed for us was epic.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

"What crimes has Trump committed? Be specific."

The Federal Attorney for the Southern District of New York has been sitting on indictments for campaign finance violations based on use of campaign money to pay off Stormy Danials and Karen McDougal to not say anything regarding their sexual relationships with Mr. Trump. There are also potential obstruction of justice indictments for asking the FBI director to drop the FBIs investigation into Michael Flynn, his firing the FBI director after refusing to do so. Later, two days after his attorney McGahn refused to fire Jeff Sessions for recusing himself from the Special Prosecutors investigation, Mr. Trump had Cory Lewandowsky hand deliver a letter to Jeff Sessions demanding he publicly state the S-Ps investigation was "very unfair" and would be limited to future foreign election interference. Mr. Sessions apparently refused to accept the letter. Keep in mine Mr. Lewandowski was not employed by the Federal government at any level, not a member of the Trump administration, but acting completely outside of the goverment. When Mr. Trump became aware of this he asked Rick Dearborn to deliver the letter but he declined to do so (wise man). Mr. Trump also demanded that McGahn publicly refute claims in the press that Mr. Trump tried to have the S-P fired. Since that was in fact the case McGahn refused to comply. There are ten specific incidents that are obstruction of justice. The only reason the President was not charged was Robert Mueller's belief that a sitting President could not be indicted. However if Mr. Trump loses the election the statutes of limitations will not have run out on any of these charges and the Federal Attorney for the Southern District of New York could drop indictments on all of these.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

"Yes and being that we just witnessed weeks of rampage, anarchist destruction and violence, with many celebrities and Dem leaders on record telling us that dealing with white supremacy is more important that corona, some even chanting burn it all down and defund the police, I think the silents will remain with Trump. I dont agree with all Trump says/does, but there is no way, no amount of money, not anything that would convince me to ever vote for a Dem. The *(&% show they performed for us was epic."

Clear majorities of Americans agree with the purpose of the demonstrators. The cold blooded killing of George Floyd and the fact that it was clearly recorded for all to see was a watershed moment. You may still be in denial but for most of us that video is a clear example of excessive police use of force. I have been in exactly George Floyd's position, with a cashier challenging a $20 I handed her claiming it was counterfeit. I just received it from an ATM. Nobody called the police on me. i went back to the bank, had them check it and it was not counterfeit. I ended up spending it somewhere else. But Mr. Floyd was black and the presumption was he was trying to pass off counterfeit bills. The police were called and he ended up dead. The fellow was cuffed and three cops were holding him. There was no excuse to kill him. This sort of thing happens daily to blacks. I just read of another incident where a black social worker was taking a white toddler from California to Arkansas for a court ordered visit with the toddler's birth father. The airline she was using accused her of kidnapping the child and physically detained her. They refused to look at her credentials, the child's birth certificate or the court order she had with her. No, instead they assumed a black woman with a white toddler had to be a kidnapper and detained her against her will. Just two examples but for blacks in this country this happens daily. What BLM and the protesters are fighting for is justice. It is no credit to you or the USA that so many still cannot see what is right before their eyes.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Of course you must mean the lifetime criminal Mr. Floyd

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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