White House officials deny Trump bears responsibility for social unrest
Top White House aides on Thursday portrayed unrest in Kenosha, Wis., and other cities around the country as the result of Democratic leadership, rejecting the idea that President Trump bears any responsibility for the at-times violent demonstrations.
The comments, combined with Vice President Pence's speech at the Republican National Convention on Wednesday and campaign advertisements, reflect how Trump and his allies are trying to link the nationwide protests with a potential Biden administration.
"It’s not Donald Trump’s watch. He’s trying to get law and order restored," White House counselor Kellyanne Conway told Fox News.
She suggested it would be politically advantageous for the president if protests in Kenosha over the police shooting of Jacob Blake continued to spiral, citing a viral clip of a local business owner asking if protesters are "trying to get Trump reelected" by rioting.
"The more chaos and anarchy and vandalism and violence reigns, the better it is for the very clear choice on who’s best on public safety and law and order," said Conway, who is leaving the administration at the end of the month.
Marc Short, Pence's chief of staff, also pinned the blame on local Democratic leaders while hailing the president as a staunch advocate of law enforcement.
"We’ve seen a lot of violence in Democrat-run cities," he told CNN. "What we’ve seen is unwillingness to help to enforce law and order in our streets and that’s what this president and this administration are going to continue to do."
"New Day" co-anchor Alisyn Camerota pressed Short on his argument that Democratic leadership had led to violence in Seattle, Kenosha, Portland, Ore., and elsewhere. She noted that the burst of unruly demonstrations was taking place while Trump is president, and cast doubt on the argument that the protests would simply disappear if Trump is reelected.
"So if President Trump is reelected there won't be Democratic-run cities?" Camerota asked.
"Of course there will be Democrat-run cities," Short responded. "But we’re going to continue to make sure we’re protecting law enforcement standing with the men who serve on the thin blue line."
The exchange underscored the difficult argument that Trump's allies are attempting to make in painting Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden as a radical who will jeopardize Americans' safety. Trump declared in his 2016 Republican National Convention address that "I alone can fix it," but he has been unable to unilaterally quell demonstrations that have at times devolved into rioting and looting.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Wednesday suggested Trump may bear some responsibility for the teenager who is charged in the shooting deaths of two protesters in Kenosha the previous night.
"And what is the responsibility that the president needs to feel about what encouragement or whatever the word is that he may have given the comfort level for someone to do such a thing and be so brazen about is?” Pelosi asked on "The Late Show With Stephen Colbert."
The Trump campaign has disassociated itself from the suspect and argued that the president has "consistently condemned all forms of violence and believes we must protect all Americans from chaos and lawlessness."
In his speech Wednesday night, Pence somberly warned viewers "you won't be safe in Joe Biden's America," tying him to efforts to cut police funding and criticizing the former vice president for failing to condemn violence.
Biden has said he does not support the push from some activists to "defund the police," and he has spoken out in opposition to the violent aspects of protests over racial unrest. The Democratic nominee posted a video to social media on Wednesday specifically calling for an end to "needless violence."
The Biden campaign on Thursday pushed back further on Pence's remarks.
"With all due respect, Mr. Vice President, that violence is happening right now in Donald Trump's America. That division is happening right now on your watch. You own this," senior adviser Symone Sanders said on a call with reporters, responding to Pence's convention speech.
Trump has for weeks called for "law and order" and threatened to intervene, even as city leaders have rejected federal involvement for fear of escalation.
The president is expected to double down on his attacks and dystopian portrayals of life under a Biden administration during his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention on Thursday night.
"He is going to be laying out a vision and a real choice for Americans as to which America they want to live in and what they want their country to look like," White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said Thursday.
Trump has yet to address the police shooting of Blake on Sunday, when he was shot seven times in the back. Daily protests in Kenosha have persisted since then, with the demonstrations turning violent at times. Police have arrested a 17-year-old in connection with the fatal shooting of two people during Tuesday's protests.