But upon arriving in the state, Trump largely ignored the tragedy that ostensibly brought him here: the police shooting of Jacob Blake, who survived but is now partially paralyzed, his family members have said. Two days after Blake was shot, a white counterprotester allegedly shot three people during demonstrations against police brutality in Kenosha, killing two.
Trump did not focus on that violence, but instead on the destruction of private property during the past week’s protests, surveying areas damaged by rioters and touring an emergency operations center.
Speaking with a panel of white law enforcement officers at a Kenosha high school, alongside Attorney General William Barr, acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf, Sen. Ron Johnson and Rep. Bryan Steil, Trump blamed “violent mobs” for damaging businesses and public buildings and throwing bricks at police officers.
“These are not acts of peaceful protest but really domestic terror,” the president said. And he blamed “reckless far-left politicians” who “continue to push the destructive message that our nation and our law enforcement are oppressive or racist. They’ll throw out any word that comes to them. Actually, we must give far greater support to our law enforcement.”
Asked whether he thinks racism in America is a systemic problem, Trump replied, “I don’t believe that at all.”
And he ducked a question about the need for structural changes to U.S. society that protesters are demanding, pivoting instead to those Americans he and other Republicans often call the “silent majority.”
The people in Kenosha “want to see law and order. That’s the change they want,” Trump replied. ”They want people that are gonna keep them safe, where their houses aren’t broken into, where they’re not raped and murdered. That’s what they want. And they’re protesters, too, but they don’t walk down the street.”
Trump heaped effusive praise on the nation’s law enforcement, sympathizing with officers who put their lives in danger and are sometimes forced to make a life-or-death decision in a split second. He urged Americans to accept the fact that officers sometimes “choke” and make bad decisions.
Trump said his administration would provide $1 million to Kenosha law enforcement, nearly $4 million to support small businesses and more than $42 million to support public safety statewide, including funds for prosecutors “to punish criminals and provide services to victims of crimes.”
Asked what he would say to Blake’s family about the events that sparked the latest round of racial justice protests in a summer filled with them, Trump spoke in general terms. “I feel terribly for anybody that goes through that,” he said.
“It’s under your local investigation group unit, and I hope they come up with the right answer,” he added. “It’s a complicated subject, to be honest with you.”
The president’s emphasis on a partisan, pro-police, anti-protest message is illustrative of the pivot Republicans are trying to make, turning the conversation away from an economy battered by the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed upwards of 183,000 Americans, to the issue of public safety as the 2020 presidential race enters its final stretch.
Wisconsin is a battleground state that Trump won in 2016 by less than a percentage point, and Democrats were set to hold their nominating convention in Milwaukee earlier this summer before the event went virtual.