BALTIMORE, Maryland – Republicans opened the third night of their convention on Wednesday with a strong law-and-order message, casting U.S. President Donald Trump as a supporter of law enforcement amid protests over the police shooting of a Black man in Wisconsin.
Speakers reinforced the grim warnings of the previous two convention nights of a return to lawlessness if Trump is denied a second term in November.
South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem said protests and street violence across the country showed what happens under Democratic leadership.
“From Seattle and Portland to Washington in New York, Democrat-run cities across this country are being overrun by violent mobs. The violence is rampant. There’s looting, chaos, destruction and murder,” she said.
Hours earlier Trump said he would send federal law enforcement to Kenosha, Wisconsin, by agreement with the state’s governor. Three people were shot, two fatally, on Tuesday, a third night of unrest. A teenager was arrested on homicide charges. Authorities said the teen was acting as a vigilante.
The violence in Kenosha was sparked when police shot Jacob Blake, 29, multiple times in the back at close range on Sunday, reigniting protests against racism and police brutality that erupted across the United States earlier in the summer.
“We will NOT stand for looting, arson, violence, and lawlessness on American streets,” Trump said on Twitter.
U.S. Sen. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee said Trump had stood up to support law enforcement officers. On a night when the theme was “Land of Heroes,” she accused Democrats of failing to recognize them as such.
“Leftists try to turn them into villains. They want to ‘cancel’ them. But I’m here to tell you these heroes can’t be canceled,” she said.
Democrats have characterized Trump’s law-and-order focus as a diversion from what they say is the president’s mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed more than 178,000 Americans and cost the jobs of tens of millions of people.
Trump, 74, trails Democratic challenger Joe Biden, 77, in opinion polls ahead of the Nov. 3 election.
Biden said he spoke with Blake’s family and, like the family, called for an end to the violence. But, unlike Trump who has yet to comment on the police shooting, Biden called for justice and defended the right to protest.
“Protesting brutality is a right and absolutely necessary, but burning down communities is not protest. It’s needless violence,” Biden said in a video posted by his campaign.
Biden has resisted activist calls to “defund the police,” instead promising to invest $300 million in a program that gives grants to hire more diverse officers and train them to develop less adversarial relationships with communities.
Blurring the lines
Trump’s vice president, Mike Pence, will close the evening with a speech at the Fort McHenry National Monument in Baltimore, Maryland — a federal facility that is the site of the battle during the War of 1812 that inspired Francis Scott Key to write “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
Like other Republicans, Pence will seek to reshape the narrative around the economy, largely ignoring millions of jobs lost to the pandemic. Despite lagging behind Biden in opinion polls, Trump gets higher marks as a steward of the economy than his Democratic rival does.
Democrats and other critics have accused Trump and Republicans of inappropriately blurring the lines between government and partisan politics during the convention, using many of the trappings of office for his re-election campaign.
Tuesday night’s convention program from the White House included a citizenship naturalization ceremony, overseen by Trump and the acting secretary of homeland security, and a presidential pardon.
A White House official said the naturalization ceremony and pardon were official White House events. The footage was posted on a public website ahead of the convention broadcast and the campaign was free to use that content, the official said.
Pence, who had faced speculation he would be dropped from the ticket, was expected to highlight the administration’s record in his speech as well as goals for a second term.
The former Indiana governor and congressman, a conservative Christian, served as a key connector between Trump and evangelical voters, an influential part of the Republican political base.
Pence will be expected to defend the administration’s response to the pandemic. He was put in charge of the Trump administration’s response in the outbreak’s early days, although Trump quickly became the face of the White House response and has been criticized for minimizing the threat from the virus.
The political fallout also hit Trump’s re-election campaign, cutting into his support in opinion polls, which show Americans trust Biden more than Trump to handle the pandemic.
A White House official said Pence would offer an optimistic vision for the country while providing a contrast with Biden and his running mate, U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris of California.
At their own party convention last week, Biden and Harris warned Americans against giving Trump another four years in the White House.