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Larry Donnelly: It's now 'Game On' in the Biden vs Trump race

Larry Donnelly says we are in a crucial phase of the US election cycle and if the Democrats don’t tackle Trump’s fear-based message, they could be in trouble.

Larry Donnelly Law lecturer, NUI Galway

THE REPUBLICAN AND Democratic National Conventions, which were predictably quite divergent in style, content and focus, are now in the history books. And the battle for the White House is well and truly underway.

In recent days, Wisconsin and its ordinarily fairly sleepy city of Kenosha have been ground zero. As such, Donald Trump and Joe Biden have visited. Their trips to Kenosha were undeniably political.

The horrific video of the unwarranted police shooting of Jacob Blake multiple times in the back with his children nearby sparked new demonstrations on Kenosha’s streets. The righteous anger of peaceful protesters was again absolutely justified.

Speaking bluntly, leaving aside right and wrong, one also wonders why a police officer who must have been aware both of the fraught climate in which cops are operating and the omnipresence of mobile phone cameras shot this man repeatedly? The incident is revolting and terrifying in equal measure.

Law and order in Kenosha

That said, the aftermath in Kenosha was far from calm. Rioters did almost two million dollars worth of destruction to city-owned property and set dozens of fires on the streets. Several small businesses were destroyed.

Many others incurred severe and costly damage. The effects were particularly acute in the city’s African American community. And most outraging for the residents of Kenosha, those arrested for their appalling behaviour were mainly from somewhere else.

Although the data is incomplete, there is some evidence in the polling that the “law and order” posturing at the GOP convention, as well as events in Kenosha, have provided a boost to President Trump’s chances of getting a second term.

Moreover, in an assessment of the betting averages published by RealClearPolitics.com, the journalist John Authers notes that “Biden’s lead has collapsed in the last month” and that, even if so-called prediction markets are not perfect, “their results have tended to be uncannily accurate.”

Nonetheless, the fact is that the Black Lives Matter movement and its activities are perceived vastly differently. Regrettably, the variance in opinion correlates significantly to skin colour.

Shifting sands

An analysis of tracking polls on FiveThirtyEight.com shows that the level of support for BLM has dropped among white Americans, as has disapproval of the police. The provocative remarks in coded and not coded language from Trump and others about violence in the cities and the potential for lawlessness to creep into the suburbs where lots of white Americans live have had an impact.

In my view, one of the reasons why Kamala Harris was clearly the best choice of running mate that Joe Biden could have made is that she is well placed to orchestrate the tricky balancing act Democrats need to pull off in order to win the presidency.

They must translate the frustration and consequent mobilisation of BLM into increased turnout of voters of colour. At the same time, they must establish a considerable distance between themselves and the movement’s more radical elements. Harris, as a former prosecutor who is a woman of colour, could accomplish this two-fold task credibly and persuasively.

Yet she fell at the first hurdle. In an interview on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, when asked about BLM protests, she replied: “They’re not gonna stop. And that’s – they’re not – this is a movement.

They’re not gonna stop…And everyone beware, because they’re not gonna stop…They’re not gonna stop before Election Day in November, and they’re not gonna stop after Election Day…everyone should take note of that. They’re not gonna let up. And they should not. And we should not.”

Her defenders would surely say that she was referring to the peaceful marchers on the streets who are urging a long-overdue reckoning with race in the United States. She surely was. But that is not what the key voters in Middle America would have heard or how the Trump campaign and its allies have spun it.

Instead, this will be interpreted as a tacit endorsement of the egregious, ongoing conduct of an emboldened mob. Harris’s comment – “we should not” – will be used to link the Biden/Harris ticket to what their political foes might describe as BLM’s criminal underbelly.

Harris and her advisers must recognise that they are no longer talking only to the Democratic Party’s grassroots or to women and men in her native California. They are now speaking to the pivotal people in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and beyond who will determine if Biden can achieve his long-held dream to become commander-in-chief.

The balancing act

Understandably, Biden and Harris don’t want to do anything to exacerbate what many assert is a lack of enthusiasm on the left for two establishment-oriented figures, but given the historic realities of where presidential contests are won and the corresponding numerical realities of the Electoral College, they have little choice in the matter.

They must unequivocally and strenuously condemn those who cause mayhem on the streets. And Harris’s experience in law enforcement is not a credential to be hidden; it should be burnished.

Trump’s presidency has failed in numerous respects to live up to the expectations he set. Sadly, the way Trump has conducted himself in office has distracted politicians, the media and the citizenry from the vexed problems facing the US which he promised to address.

His administration has mishandled Covid-19 and millions are suffering ill health, financial ruin and more at present. It is no surprise that Joe Biden is in the lead.

It is also no surprise that a cornered and desperate, yet cagey and still much adored, Donald Trump has turned to fear as he attempts to make a comeback. He has proved a master of exploiting fear, which has always been one of the most powerful emotions in American politics.

Democrats had to know this was coming. They have no excuse for not being prepared for it.

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Biden, Harris and their party more broadly will be charged with having the following objectives: to raise taxes to “socialist” levels; to deliberately dismantle high-quality healthcare plans; to starve police departments of resources so that they are rendered unable to protect vulnerable individuals and groups from dangerous criminals; to allow abortions up until the moment of birth; to rewrite the history books in the name of political correctness and to erode the right to own guns widely deemed necessary in the US to defend family and private property.

How well they and their surrogates push back against this sort of fear-mongering will be crucial. In so doing, I’d strongly encourage them to remain mindful of the middle ground.

At any rate, for the next eight weeks, those who oppose Donald Trump will be looking on… yes, in fear.

Larry Donnelly is a Boston attorney, a Law Lecturer at NUI Galway and a political columnist with TheJournal.ie.

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About the author:

Larry Donnelly  / Law lecturer, NUI Galway

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