Biden condemns Kenosha violence and rebuts Trump's 'law and order' message

Key Points
  • Joe Biden issued a stinging rebuke to President Donald Trump's false accusations that the Democratic nominee is anti-law enforcement, or that he supports violent demonstrators.
  • "Rioting is not protesting. Looting is not protesting. Setting fires is not protesting ... it's lawlessness, plain and simple," said Biden.
  • After leading Trump in polls by wide margins for more than a year, Biden's lead has tightened in the past several days.
Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden: 'Violence will not bring change. It will only bring destruction'

WASHINGTON -- Former Vice President Joe Biden on Monday issued a stinging rebuke to President Donald Trump's false accusations that the Democratic nominee is anti-law enforcement, or that he condones violence that has erupted in cities like Kenosha, Wisconsin, and Portland, Oregon. 

"Does anyone believe there will be less violence in America if Donald Trump is reelected?" said Biden, part of a broader argument he made that the president himself is a contributing factor to the unrest and racial strife that has roiled the nation this summer.

Property damage and clashes with police in several large cities have followed peaceful demonstrations opposing police brutality against Black people, which were triggered by the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis in late May. The latest police shooting of an unarmed Black man, Jacob Blake, occurred in Kenosha earlier this month, sparking protests and counterprotests there. 

"Rioting is not protesting. Looting is not protesting. Setting fires is not protesting. None of this is protesting, it's lawlessness, plain and simple," said Biden. "And those who do it should be prosecuted. Violence will not bring change. It will only bring destruction. It's wrong in every way."

Democratic presidential nominee former US Vice President Joe Biden speaks during a campaign event at Mill 19 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, August 31, 2020.
Saul Loeb | AFP | Getty Images

The speech was Biden's most direct rebuttal so far of Trump's and the GOP's attacks last week during the virtual Republican National Convention. 

"Ask yourself, do I look like a radical socialist with a soft spot for rioters?" Biden said, dismissing false claims like the one Trump made last week, when he said Biden was a "Trojan horse for socialism." 

"I want a safe America. Safe from Covid. Safe from crime and looting, safe from racially-motivated violence, safe from bad cops. Let me be crystal clear. Safe from four more years of Donald Trump," said Biden.  

On Tuesday, Trump will travel to Kenosha, where he plans to meet with law enforcement. As of Monday afternoon, the president did not plan to meet with the family of Jacob Blake, who was shot in the back seven times by a police officer in front of his children.

Democrats have criticized Trump's visit as a divisive stunt during a time when tensions between law enforcement and Kenosha's Black community are especially raw. White House spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany said Monday that Trump was going partly to "visit hurting Americans," but also for a more overtly political reason: "Highlighting that the federal government has done a lot in the way of using law and order to create peace," she said.

Biden's 30-minute formal speech, delivered on location in Pittsburgh, represents a concerted effort to shift the focus of the election back into a referendum on Trump, and on the president's leadership of the country over the past 3½ years, especially during the past six months of the coronavirus pandemic.

Political strategists on both sides of the aisle have acknowledged that if November's election is a referendum on Trump, then the president will have a very difficult time getting reelected. But if Trump can manage to shift the focus of the race to Biden, then the president's odds improve. 

Biden, like Trump, is acutely aware of this dynamic. In Pittsburgh, he accused Trump of resorting to fear mongering because more traditional reelection pitches wouldn't work in his favor.

"The simple truth is Donald Trump failed to protect America. So now, he's trying to scare America," said Biden.

"Since Donald Trump and Mike Pence can't run on their record that has seen more American deaths to a virus than this nation suffered in every war since Korea combined. ... Since they can't run on their economy that has seen more people lose their jobs than at any time since the Great Depression. ... Since they can't run on the simple proposition of sending our children safely back to school. ... And since they have no agenda or vision for a second term Trump and Pence are running on this: 'You won't be safe in Joe Biden's America.' And what's their proof? The violence you're seeing in Donald Trump's America."

"These are not images from some imagined 'Joe Biden's America' in the future," Biden continued. "These are images from Donald Trump's America today. He keeps telling you if only he was president it wouldn't happen. He keeps telling us if he was president you would feel safe. Well – he is president. And it is happening. And you don't."

For Biden, there is a lot riding on whether or not his argument about safety resonates with voters. 

After leading Trump in polls by significant margins for more than a year, the presidential race appears to have tightened in the past several days. It's a shift driven in part by Trump's hammering of a "law and order" message that distorts both Biden's positions and the nature of the social justice protests this summer.

But it also likely reflects public anxiety in the wake of two killings — the double homicide of two protesters in Kenosha allegedly by a 17-year-old vigilante, and the shooting of a man at a Trump support demonstration in Portland, Oregon.

While Biden has led Trump overall in nationwide polls, Trump polled 4 points better than Biden this month on the question of who voters trust most to deal with crime, 43-39, according to an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll.

Following Biden's speech, the Trump campaign claimed that Biden had "failed to condemn the left-wing mobs burning, looting, and terrorizing American cities."