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Tamara Keith and Amy Walter on Trump’s crime talking points

NPR’s Tamara Keith and Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report join Judy Woodruff to discuss the latest political news, including the rhetorical battle over peaceful protests and incidents of violence and whether that conversation benefits President Trump or Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Both President Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden are hitting the campaign trail in person this week, each delivering remarks on, among other things, racial tension and violence in some American cities.

    Our Politics Monday team is here now to analyze each party's message. That is Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report and host of public radio's "Politics With Amy Walter," and Tamara Keith of NPR. She also co-hosts the "NPR Politics Podcast."

    Hello to both of you. Good to see you after two weeks of conventions.

    I want to start with what Joe Biden and the president are saying about violence and the source of it.

    But, Tam, I want to start with something the president said just moments ago at a briefing at the White House. He was asked about the teenager Kyle Rittenhouse in Kenosha, Wisconsin, who just a few days ago shot and killed two Black Lives Matter protesters in the aftermath of the shooting of Jacob Blake.

    And here is what the president said in answer to a question about Mr. Rittenhouse.

  • President Donald Trump:

    He fell, and then they very violently attacked him. And it was something that we're looking at right now, and it is under investigation.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, Tam, in essence, the president defending what Kyle Rittenhouse has done. He was a 17-year-old carrying a long gun, and the president is saying it was in self-defense, in essence.

  • Tamara Keith:

    That is what the president is saying.

    You know, President Trump has this tendency to, when there are people who support him or are sort of ideologically aligned with them, he is very quick to defend them, see the best in them, look for reasons that they may not be guilty.

    And, of course, this is — we live in a system where you're innocent until proven guilty, obviously, and this is an alleged crime at this point. But President Trump was much more quick to blame people on the left for violence in other cities, including the shooting death of a right-wing activist who was part of a caravan in support of President Trump in Portland over the weekend.

    So, this is part of a longstanding pattern that President Trump has, where he has difficulty finding the right words, or whatever you want to call it, condemning violence that is ideologically aligned with him.

    And he has a much easier time condemning violence that is not ideologically aligned with him.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, Amy, when the president talks about things like this, when says the Democrats are going to bring lawlessness, violence to the American streets, what voters is he trying to reach?

  • Amy Walter:

    Well, it is interesting that this is where we are right now, Judy. It sort of fits, actually, into what Joe Biden was saying today.

    He was out in Western Pennsylvania pushing back on charges that were raised during the convention by the president and by a lot of Republicans that were on the convention stage that Joe Biden would — bringing Joe Biden into the White House would unleash this wave of violence in the cities.

    And Biden said, essentially, wait. Do you feel safe right now, talking not just about the violence, but exactly what Tam raised here, which is, when the president has an opportunity to lower the temperature, he raises it. When he has a chance to like calm the waters, he just roils them.

    And this is what you have been hearing that from voters over and over again, these voters that now the president is going after, whether we're calling them suburban voters or women voters, who have said time and time again, while they may like the message, right — we don't want violence, we don't want to see our cities turned into this vigilante sort of justice — at the same time, they don't see the president as having the temperament to be able to deal with this.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And I mean, Tam, when you when you think about how Joe Biden is now coming back, he's saying the president is the one who's created the conditions for this violence, he's created an atmosphere of chaos.

    Does the White House have an answer? Does the Trump campaign have an answer for that?

  • Tamara Keith:

    Well, President Trump was given an opportunity today. He was asked, do you want armed militias going into cities, or do you want law enforcement to handle this?

    And he said, well I want law enforcement. And then he started about going after Democrats for the idea of defunding the police.

    The campaign response, they had a call today, sort of a prebuttal to the Biden campaign speech, and here's a quote from someone who was a surrogate for President Trump. This person said: "In Trump's America, this will stop."

    There's a little bit of cognitive dissonance, because this is Trump's America. What the president and the campaign and the White House will say is, in places where they accept the help of the federal government, in places where the National Guard goes in or federal law enforcement, then things calm down, and, in places where they don't, chaos reigns.

    It's a difficult argument for an incumbent to make, that things that are happening in his country while he is president are not his responsibility.

    But I talked to a longtime Trump adviser, who said, there's no cognitive dissonance here. President Trump sees himself as an outsider. He's going to run as an outsider. He sees that he's the outsider here, even though he is president of the United States.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, Amy, pick up on that.

    I mean, looking historically, I mean, other candidates, in fact, Richard Nixon in the '60s and others, Republicans, have tried to use this law and order argument. How successful has it been? And how hard is it for the Democrats to push back against it?

  • Amy Walter:

    Right.

    And Tam is totally right that, when you're an incumbent, and bad things are happening on your watch, it's really hard to turn it on the other person, especially in the case when that other person happens to be Joe Biden.

    And he said in his speech today: "You know me. Do I look like a radical socialist with a soft spot for rioting?"

    I mean, this has been the challenge for Republicans from the get-go is, in Joe Biden, they have a very difficult target. He does not sort of fit the stereotype of the kind of candidate they were hoping to run against, somebody who identifies as a socialist or somebody who would have more sympathies with some of the folks that are leading these protests and some of the riots that are going on there.

    So, that's challenge number one. And, as I said, the other challenge for the president is having a believability on the issue, or at least being seen as a broker on this issue that they can trust.

  • Tamara Keith:

    I would just add that…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Such a tough subject.

  • Tamara Keith:

    Yes.

    We are, however, on President Trump's ground right now. This whole conversation is President Trump's ground.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Right. Yes. it was the pandemic, and now we're talking about the protests.

  • Tamara Keith:

    Exactly.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Tamara Keith, Amy Walter, thank you both.

  • Tamara Keith:

    You're welcome.

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