Trump's invisible war

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By Susan Estrich
Posted9/10/2020 1:00 AM

Did you hear the word "Obamacare" during the Republican convention? It was once President Donald Trump's worst enemy. Then it got more popular, as people who had not been able to get insurance in the past then could. In this pandemic, it has been essential. The idea of taking health insurance away from tens of millions of Americans in the middle of a pandemic is one that even those who live in the altered universe Trump inhabits couldn't imagine selling.

Having lost the war on Obamacare, Trump and his Trumpers couldn't really come up with anything -- the stock market may have been soaring, but so has unemployment, and people are still getting sick, especially in Trump states. They turned to Richard Nixon for an answer.


The answer was law and order. The problem was that in 1968, there actually were riots in major American cities after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. The Chicago police gassed and beat demonstrators and star network anchors alike at the Democratic convention. Millions of Americans worried that the cities were on fire, and crime was soaring because that was actually true.

The cities are not on fire today. Many of them are still deserted. Portland was the exception, and really, seeing a line of mothers facing federal officials who were sent in by Trump scared me as a student of the Constitution, not as a city dweller.

Taking a page from the movie "Wag the Dog," in the absence of real riots that would scare suburban voters, the Republicans tried to create unreal ones. If you only watched the Republican convention and only track conservative media, you might actually believe that every city (except your own) is being destroyed by "thugs" -- the president's word for all protesters, not the few who use the opportunity to break windows or loot stores. In Trump's America, suburban voters must vote for him to save themselves, literally.

You can fool some people some of the time, but fooling a majority of the people at the same time is more than Trump has managed to date. Most Americans don't consider crime a top issue in this election; they are far more concerned about the pandemic, the economy and social justice than they are about "restoring" law and order. Polls tracking the Republican convention found that Trump actually lost ground on the crime issue during the conventions. While a Wall Street Journal poll gave him a 4-point advantage over Biden on handling crime, coming out of the conventions, a Politico polls found Biden with an 8-point advantage over Trump.

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But the Trump campaign has not pivoted, at least not yet. New ads released by the Trumpers this week to be run in Wisconsin and Minnesota, the states where police shootings of Black men led to the large protests, feature pictures of cities on fire mixed with images of Biden looking hapless along with the most liberal Democrats, hardly Biden's closest advisers. And on a call with reporters about the campaign, senior Trump campaign adviser Jason Miller reportedly said that the Biden campaign was now being run by a "radical left-wing mob" and accused Biden of not having a "plan to stop the violence" -- as opposed to Trump's campaign, which clearly does have a plan to create the violence, or at least the appearance of it.

It is easy to criticize Trump and his campaign. What is harder for many Democrats is to understand how Trump is only 7 points behind and is supported by almost as many voters in key states as Biden. The cities may not be burning, but Trump could still win.

© 2020, Creators

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