by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
While President Trump will be judged by his response to the violence engulfing cities across the country, the riots also pose political risks for presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden.
Biden needs to express unequivocal support for the protests against police treatment of African Americans without appearing to endorse the increasingly violent tenor of these demonstrations, a challenging feat for any politician much less one who is widely regarded as no longer at the top of his rhetorical game. He also cannot hug law enforcement too tightly, while some in the White House are encouraging Trump to make a pro-police statement even as he expresses sympathy for George Floyd, an unarmed black man who died in custody.
Black voters are a crucial part of Biden’s electoral coalition. They helped rescue him from the political dead, starting in South Carolina, and delivered him the Democratic nomination. He also needs strong black turnout in the general election, something that eluded Hillary Clinton despite her strong showing with African Americans in the 2016 primaries, and to prevent Trump from making planned inroads with black men. These voters largely see Floyd’s death as part of a larger pattern of systemic racism and police brutality against their communities, and Biden has acknowledged he cannot take them for granted.
The former vice president can point to comments he has made criticizing “needless destruction” and encouraging peaceful protest, but it took him until Sunday morning to do so. Biden failed to condemn the rioting in his initial statement. “We need real leadership right now,” he said. “Leadership that will bring everyone to the table, so we can take measures to root out systemic racism.”
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