Donald Trump told governors they could look like weak “jerks” if they don’t “dominate” protesters, and called for “retribution.”
Joe Biden held an event with big-city mayors grappling with violent unrest to talk about their needs and pledged police reforms.
Monday’s split screen delivered a sharp contrast in temperament and style between the current president and the presumptive Democratic nominee — and it was by design.
For the former vice president, Monday served as an important moment — perhaps the most significant for Biden since the coronavirus lockdown started. As nationwide protests and vandalism blazed across America’s large cities, Biden sought to use the convergence of crises to shake off the image of him as being locked away in a Wilmington, Del., basement, project a different style of leadership and take on the mantle of leader of the Democratic opposition.
While Trump went to a secure bunker below the White House when protesters gathered outside over the weekend, Biden intentionally chose to take an opposite tack, meeting Sunday with demonstrators near his Delaware home. Biden’s campaign aides pledged to bail out jailed protesters; on Twitter, Trump warned protesters about the prospect of “ominous weapons” and “the most vicious dogs.”
“That’s his whole purpose, to say, ‘Here’s who I am and here’s the leadership the country needs right now,’” said Harold Schaitberger, president of the International Association of Fire Fighters, and a longtime Biden ally. “It needs as much leadership and as much strength and as much compassion and understanding and recognition that we still have communities that do have to put up with elements of discrimination.”
In response to the violence and chaos that has erupted in many cities after last week’s killing of a black man under the knee of a white Minneapolis police officer, Trump has largely adopted a defiant tone, repeatedly calling for harsh measures against protesters.
Biden, however, used the moment to leave his self-imposed coronavirus quarantine and call for reconciliation. On Sunday, he met with demonstrators on the streets of Wilmington. On Monday, he met with black leaders in a church there before holding a virtual roundtable with the mayors of Los Angeles, Chicago, Atlanta, St. Paul and Minneapolis — some of whom have criticized the president for using inflammatory rhetoric.
“Donald Trump has made a mockery of America and of our democracy. When I look at Joe Biden, it is the antithesis of everything that Donald Trump represents each and every day,” Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms told POLITICO on Monday. “He is acknowledging our pain and he’s acknowledging that for as painful as it is to watch the death of George Floyd, there are layers to what we’re seeing play out in our streets right now. As he acknowledges it, he wants to hear from leaders across this country on what we can do better, how we can do it better together.”
The idea was to show a steady hand during a time of crisis, and that Biden could constructively engage with young protesters — a purposeful contrast to Trump, whom Biden’s campaign has portrayed as injecting venom into already volatile circumstances.
“You gotta arrest these people and you gotta charge them. … These are terrorists. They’re looking to do bad things to our country. They’re antifa and they’re radical left,” Trump said in a call with governors Monday, according to a recording obtained by POLITICO. “We need law and order in our country. If we don’t have law and order, we don’t have a country.”
On that call, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker called out the president, saying his tough talk during the past several days of violence was only exacerbating the situation.
“I’ve been extraordinarily concerned about the rhetoric that’s used by you. It’s been inflammatory — and it’s not OK for that officer to choke George Floyd to death — but we have to call for calm,” Pritzker, a Democrat, said to Trump. “The rhetoric that’s coming out of the White House is making it worse. I feel that I need to say people are feeling real pain out there and we’ve got to have national leadership in calling for calm.”
By SHIA KAPOS
“I don’t like your rhetoric much either,” Trump shot back. Then, referring to coronavirus, he told the Illinois governor, “I think you could have done a much better job, frankly.”
The clash was a dramatic departure from Biden’s virtual roundtable with mayors, where he listened patiently to the challenges they faced with protesters and the sensitivities around police violence.
“The country is crying out for leadership right now, what Joe Biden did today was not just talk but listen. He went to listen to people in his community and hear about how they’re grappling with what’s happening in this country. That’s meaningful leadership,” said Kate Bedingfield, Biden’s deputy campaign manager. “What we’ve seen Donald Trump do is sit in the White House and tweet.”
Biden, appearing Monday at Bethel AME Church near his Delaware home, told a small group of African American leaders that he would establish a “police oversight board” in his first 100 days in office and said police needed to be retrained to avoid brutality.
“There’s a lot of different things that could change. There’s a lot that could be done,” Biden said, noting that police brutality isn’t solely limited to white officers. “The culture has to be dealt with.”
The Trump campaign criticized Biden’s campaign staffers for announcing they were donating to a group that is paying bail for those arrested amid the protests in Minneapolis.
“If Joe Biden thinks that the looting and the rioting and the destruction in the streets across this country is something to be proud of, then that’s an interesting take,” campaign spokesman Rick Gorka said. “The protests to honor the memory of George Floyd have been hijacked. And for his campaign to be siding with the criminals that have hijacked this process is disgusting.”
At the same time, Trump believes that a strong response coupled with federal action like the one he announced Monday will give comfort to suburban voters — particularly white women whom he has been hemorrhaging — if they come to fear the spread of lawlessness, according to two advisers who have spoken with the president.
On Monday night in a Rose Garden speech, Trump boasted of invoking the 1807 Insurrection Act, warning of “anarchy” and promising “immediate presidential action to stop the violence and restore security and safety in America.” Just before the speech, law enforcement cleared the streets near the White House of demonstrators.
Still, there’s concern among top Trump supporters and advisers that the unrest and the president’s response to it has so far hurt more than it has helped, in part because it comes amid a pandemic that already appears to have given Biden a boost over Trump in recent national polls.
Biden’s public appearances on Sunday and Monday were a step toward addressing what has been a sensitive issue for his campaign — the “Biden in the basement” theme. Ron Klain, one of Biden’s top advisers, wrote Monday on social media: “Before one more person @ me over why @JoeBiden needs to be in public more, I beg you to tweet at @MSNBC and @CNN and ask them why they didn’t carry his TWO public events today?”
Bedingfield said the criticism “completely misses the mark.”
“If you remember a couple of months ago, Donald Trump was giving Rose Garden briefings and people said that this was going to be the end of the Biden campaign because Donald Trump had the bully pulpit. Well, what happened? It ended up him doing more harm than good,” Bedingfield said. “He himself ended up stopping those briefings because it offered chaos and more turmoil and they didn’t want it.”
Biden is expected to gradually ramp up in-person events, and eventually out-of-state travel, as related restrictions are relaxed. According to his campaign, in the coming days the former vice president will hold more talks like the ones he did on Monday, reaching out to local leaders and discussing how to balance racial sensitivities and the importance of law enforcement. The campaign will also lean into the contrasts in upcoming days and aim to show Biden is “a stable and steady voice,” in contrast with the rhetoric emanating from the White House.