It’s not hard to figure out what Donald Trump is up to at the moment: He’s making every effort to stir up racial tension and provoke violence after the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin. What’s harder to figure out is why.
Today, Trump is traveling to Kenosha, over the objections and pleas of the governor and mayor (both Democrats), who say he will only make the situation worse, which is probably the goal anyway. Yesterday, he passed up an easy chance to condemn violence on all sides—just as he’d dared Joe Biden to do, and as Biden had happily done—and defended Kyle Rittenhouse, who was charged with two murders in Kenosha last week. He denounced the Black Lives Matter movement, compared Blake’s shooting to missing a putt, and turned down a meeting with Blake’s family. For good measure, he also offered up a pair of bizarre, baseless conspiracy theories during a prime-time Fox News interview.
Perhaps Kenosha will prove a turning point for this presidential campaign, but if it does, it’s far more likely to be because it has turned voters against Trump than because it has rallied them to his support.
There’s an intuitive logic to the idea that protests, rioting, and racial tension will benefit President Trump’s reelection effort. Trump seems to thrive on chaos, and his 2016 election was driven in large part by racial resentment and fear among white voters. Therefore, ginning up white racial resentment now might be one thing—perhaps the only thing—that can save the president’s foundering campaign. A parade of pundits, generally of the center-right or moderate, Trump-skeptical variety, emerged late last week to demand that Biden denounce violence forcefully (he had, and has again since) or deliver a “Sister Souljah moment” (however misleading that shorthand is) or else risk losing the election.