WASHINGTON – Apocalyptic images of blazing buildings and window-smashing protesters pop on the TV screen as a caller to a 911 emergency line reaches voicemail. The computer offers to take reports of rapes, murders or home invasions, adding, “Our estimated wait time is five days.”
The 30-second ad by President Donald Trump's reelection campaign ends with “You won't be safe in Joe Biden's America” emblazoned across a flickering hellscape. It blames a push by progressive activists to defund the police as “violent crime has exploded.”
With recent shootings that have killed children and dozens of others in cities with large Black populations like New York, Atlanta and Chicago, the GOP is trying to play offense, ominously. Ads like Trump’s and other Republican messaging insinuate that the rare looting and violence that marred largely peaceful social justice protests are spreading and foretell a wave of mayhem that they claim Democrats would abet with anti-police policies.
Trump emphasized that menacing theme at the White House Thursday, calling proponents of defunding the police “crazy.” Telling a visiting group of Hispanic Americans that many immigrants had fled dangerous countries, Trump added, “They know what happens when the police cannot protect the innocent, when the rule of law is destroyed.”
Democrats call the GOP drive an obvious diversion from issues they say voters care most about: the coronavirus pandemic that Trump has failed to control, the economic shutdown, recession-level unemployment, racial justice and health care.
They say Biden, the party's presumptive presidential nominee, has a well-honed moderate record that makes Republican efforts to cast him as a radical fruitless. And they say the GOP is fanning the flames of racism, preying on white suburbanites worried that televised scenes of burning buildings mean their neighborhoods are next.
“It’s not even subtle. We’re well beyond dog whistle,” said Ian Russell, a Democratic consultant.
The GOP spearhead comes with polls showing that Trump’s reelection and Republican control of the Senate may be in jeopardy in November’s voting. It also follows weeks of protests following the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police and during a period that’s seen Trump call the phrase “Black Lives Matter” a “symbol of hate,” defend Confederate commanders and retweet a supporter yelling, ”White power!”