As crime surges on his watch, Trump warns of Biden's America

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President Donald Trump speaks with reporters as he walks to Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House, Wednesday, July 29, 2020, in Washington. Trump is en route to Texas. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

President Donald Trump is painting a dystopian portrait of what Joe Biden’s America might look like, asserting crime and chaos would ravage communities should the former vice president win the White House in November.

Left unsaid: A recent surge in violent crime in several American cities has happened on his watch.

“Irony is way down the list of things that President Trump worries about,” said Robert Spitzer, a political scientist at the State University of New York College at Cortland whose research focuses on gun politics and the American presidency. “He’s turning to the old playbook — appeal to the fears of Americans and then associate those fears with the Democratic Party, specifically Joe Biden.”

Trump's attempt to cast Biden in that light follows a pattern seen throughout his presidency, where he attempts to shift responsibility, often to President Barack Obama, even more than three years after taking office.

With echoes of Richard Nixon’s law-and-order campaign in 1968 — when American streets were rife with racial protests and Nixon campaigned vowing to crack down and restore order in an appeal tailored to white voters — Trump is trying to energize his conservative base while also making an appeal to a small patch of undecided voters by posing the question: Which man will keep you safer?

By leaning hard on select scenes of violence, Trump is banking on that unrest continuing. But the protests could wane. Violent crime around the U.S. has been on a downward trajectory for the better part of the last three decades.

Lanae Erickson, a senior vice president for social policy and politics at the center-left think tank Third Way, said Trump’s attempt to use the Nixon playbook and tap into anxieties about crime is odd given that, unlike Nixon in 1968, Trump is already in the White House.

“Trump is the incumbent, so if bad things are happening right now, they get blamed on him,” Erickson said. “I don’t know how he can persuade voters that it’s Joe Biden’s fault.”