WILMINGTON, Del. (AP) — Joe Biden is hammering President Donald Trump’s handling of the virus outbreak ahead of a planned trip to Wisconsin, a pivotal swing state that’s becoming a focal point for political debate over protest-related violence. Biden is trying to keep the election spotlight on the president’s handling of the outbreak and the nation’s overall security.
Biden will be visiting Kenosha, where there have been protests following the wounding of a Black man, Jacob Blake, who was shot seven times in the back by police as he was trying to get into a car while police were trying to arrest him.
On Tuesday, Trump used the protests to underscore his support for law enforcement. blaming “domestic terror” for looting and arson that’s taken place in the city. The major violence included the burning of several buildings and the killing of two protesters by a 17-year-old, who is now in custody.
On Wednesday, meanwhile, Biden and his wife, Jill, a longtime community college professor and former high school teacher, are meeting with public health experts in their home town of Wilmington, Delaware, to talk about school reopening options. Then Biden will deliver remarks – his second speech in three days – outlining his ideas and accusing the president of making the country less safe.
The Wilmington event is the latest in a series of dueling efforts by Trump and Biden to cast the other as a threat to Americans’ day-to-day security. It will highlight their vastly different arguments, with Trump steering debate toward “law and order” and Biden pushing a broad referendum on Trump’s competence.
“President Trump has no plan,” said Biden adviser Symone Sanders, previewing the former vice president’s remarks on schools and the pandemic. “Instead,” she continued, “he thinks that a fear-mongering campaign stoking violence is going to help him.”
Biden, she said, “is demonstrating what a safe America could look like” by talking to experts about school options in a pandemic, while Trump tries to capitalize on the fact that some racial justice protests have led to property damage or turned into violent clashes with counter-protesters.
Trump put his approach on display again Tuesday on a trip to Kenosha, a city still reeling from protests and violence after Blake was shot. The president praised local law enforcement and toured a block charred by protesters’ fire. He called the destruction “anti-American” and suggested Biden’s election would ensure similar scenes in U.S. cities across the country. It was the latest rendition of a theme voiced throughout the Republican National Convention: “You won’t be safe in Joe Biden’s America.”
Trump again did not condemn a 17-year-old charged in the killings of two protesters in Kenosha, and he again rejected that systemic racism plays any part in U.S. society.
On Wednesday, Sanders previewed the retort to Trump and the pivot Biden was expected to deliver later that day. “To be clear, we are currently living in Donald Trump’s America, and folks have to ask themselves across the country: Are you safe?” she said. With the U.S. COVID-19 death toll nearing 190,000, Sanders declared the answer is “unequivocally” no.
Trump’s advisers argue that his stance – which includes falsely accusing Biden of championing violent protesters and wanting to “defund the police” — shifts attention away from the pandemic. They also believe the tactics help Trump attract white voters in suburbs and exurbs, key slices of his 2016 coalition.
Some Democrats have quietly worried that recent violence might boost Trump’s prospects, even as his maneuvers do nothing to quell unrest or perhaps even feed it. Biden’s team downplays such concerns, insisting the former vice president simply must counter with steady warnings that Trump is dangerously inept. They see that as an umbrella argument for any number of scenarios – including a discussion of how to reopen schools.
Trump’s cries of “law-and-order” and “radical leftists” might work, said Biden’s campaign co-chairman Cedric Richmond, “if he was the only one talking.” But the Louisiana congressman said Biden has a megaphone, too, and that Trump, even as a “p.r. master,” cannot erase Americans’ own realities on coronavirus, systemic racism or anything else.
“Look, you can’t argue that the country is so screwed up only you can fix it when you’ve been president for almost four years,” Richmond said in an interview. “His argument is basically, ‘I broke the country. Now reelect me so I can fix it.’”
Barrow reported from Atlanta.