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How President Trump Uses Law-And-Order Narrative For His Reelection Bid


President Trump met at the White House today with law enforcement officials. The meeting comes just as the Trump campaign tries to falsely link former Vice President Joe Biden to a movement by activists to defund police. For President Trump, this sets up a familiar narrative, one where he hypes the fear of violence and positions himself as a friend of police. NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith reports.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: This morning's tweet came in all caps - law and order, not defund and abolish the police, Trump wrote. That would make eight times in just the past week Trump has tweeted that phrase - law and order. He even called himself...


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Your president of law and order.

KEITH: As largely peaceful protests have swelled, Trump has kept his focus on the looters and criminal elements. This comes at a time when his poll numbers are not great and a majority of voters say he's making racial tensions worse. Trump's campaign is focused on his push to crack down. Here's communications director Tim Murtaugh today.


TIM MURTAUGH: The result was a dramatic reduction in violence and a containment of the riots.

KEITH: Trump's formula in speeches has been to nod to Floyd's death, call it an outrage and then shift to a law-and-order message that puts him on familiar footing.


TRUMP: Law and order must be restored.

KEITH: This was Trump in August 2016 at a rally 40 miles outside of Milwaukee. It was just a few days after protest and unrest in the city following the officer-involved shooting of a black man.


TRUMP: Those peddling the narrative of cops as a racist force in our society, a narrative supported with a nod by my opponent, shared directly in the responsibility for the unrest in Milwaukee and many other places within our country.

KEITH: Just as Trump accused Hillary Clinton in 2016 of being against the police, his campaign is trying to tie former Vice President Joe Biden to calls to defund the police. Biden's campaign today put out a statement saying he does not believe that police should be defunded. In an interview with Newsmax TV last week, Trump was explicit about how he intends to use this moment to hurt Democrats and turn it to his political advantage.


TRUMP: But I think they're going to lose an election because they are weak on crime. I watched Joe Biden talking about crime the other day. He's so weak on crime, he'll never stop the problem.

BRIAN WALSH: It may well play well with certain segments of suburban voters who are watching some of these riots and looting with rightful consternation.

KEITH: Brian Walsh is a Republican political consultant. He says it was smart of the Trump campaign to jump on the defund the police idea. He's not convinced Trump's 2016 playbook is going to work as well this time.

WALSH: But he needs to counter that or balance that with some consistent level of empathy and understanding and demonstrating that he's listening to those who are out in the streets protesting.

KEITH: The law-and-order theme has worked well in the past for many Republicans, going back to Nixon, says Cornell Belcher, a Democratic pollster. But this time may well be different, he says, noting suburban white kids are participating in the protests.

CORNELL BELCHER: I think it's tough to get white suburban parents to be afraid of the mob or the angry horde when their kids are, in fact, part of the mob (laughter) who are marching through the streets. So in that way, I think it fails.

KEITH: Though, he said, it is also easy to take it too far. And the defund police message could play into Trump's hands.

Tamara Keith, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.