Win or lose in November, Donald Trump is waging a “law and order” campaign that will leave a trail of wreckage likely to outlast his presidency. Sending paramilitary-style forces into Portland, Oregon, and threatening to do the same in other cities, is damaging the reputations of the federal agencies he oversees and deepening the divide between law-enforcement agents and the citizens they’re supposed to protect.
What’s motivating him is no mystery. Losing ground in the polls, Trump is depicting Democrat-led cities as crime-soaked wastelands that threaten the suburban voters who have drifted away from him over the past four years.
“It’s a winning message for him that he’s not going to tolerate this disruption of society,” Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican and a Trump confidant, told me. “I do believe that most people, particularly those in the suburbs who are not very far from all this violence, are worried about the country getting out of hand.”
Violent crime has actually been falling steadily since the 1990s. An irony of Trump’s tough-on-crime rhetoric: The pandemic he’s failed to tame may help account for a recent rise in shootings. That hasn’t stopped him from trying to capitalize on the moment by casting himself as a bulwark against urban unrest, the savior of the suburbs. “Richard Nixon ran a campaign on ‘law and order’; he won 49 states” in 1972, one person close to the Trump campaign told me. “‘Law and order’ works.”