Good morning and welcome to On Politics, a daily political analysis of the 2020 elections based on reporting by New York Times journalists.
With protesters expressing a new level of outrage, President Trump blasts back — and Democrats seek to embrace a rising movement. It’s Monday, and this is your politics tip sheet.
Where things stand
Protests spread rapidly throughout the country over the weekend, beginning with calls for justice for George Floyd, a black man who died after a white Minneapolis police officer pinned down his neck. They blossomed into a nationwide weekend of forceful demands for racial justice, as well as for a decrease in funding for police departments. In cities from New York to Los Angeles, paramilitary-attired police officers squared off with demonstrators by the thousands in some of the most bellicose mass protests of the past half-century.
President Trump’s response to the upheaval has followed a familiar pattern: He issued a statement that seemed to condone violence (“when the looting starts, the shooting starts,” he tweeted, suggesting that the police could be justified in shooting protesters, and invoking a segregationist police chief from the 1960s); it was immediately met by a backlash. Only after a disquieting delay did he try to walk back the statement. It’s roughly the arc of countless similar incidents throughout his presidency, in which he has invariably sought to push the boundary to the right on what is considered acceptable discourse from a commander in chief — or from any major American politician.
Trump claimed later on Friday that he had been misinterpreted, and he said at a round-table discussion that he understood “the pain” behind the protests. But the president has made his position clear: He stands largely against the demonstrations, and in favor (as he has tweeted repeatedly since Friday) of “law and order.” His most pointed symbolic move of the weekend came on Sunday, when he said on Twitter that he would designate antifa — a loose collection of left-wing activists whose name stands for “anti-fascist” — as a terrorist organization. It remains unclear whether the president has the legal authority to make such a designation, but the strategic value was obvious: He was pointing attention toward one of today’s most belligerent leftist movements, while seeking to divert the spotlight away from the grievances of community-led protests in Minneapolis and other cities around the country. The growing death toll and economic devastation caused by the coronavirus went virtually unmentioned on Trump’s Twitter feed over the weekend.
But what about Joe Biden? For any presumptive Democratic nominee seeking to walk a moderate line, the specter of radical protests from the left in an election year would be grounds for concern. Studies show that since the 1960s, white voters in particular have been irked by the most aggressive forms of black activism. Democrats tend to fare poorly in elections held soon after urban uprisings and protests led by black people that include attacks on property. Democrats do better, the research suggests, in the wake of nonviolent black protest movements. But a rising tide of white racial awareness — driven partly by the circulation of videos showing police killings of black people, and partly by the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement — has coincided with an increasingly radical turn among millennials and Generation Z, changing the calculus of the Democratic Party.
Rather than simply urging protesters to stop damaging property and lighting structures ablaze, Tim Walz, the governor of Minnesota, sounded acutely aware of the delicate balance he needed to strike on Friday morning. “The ashes are symbolic of decades and generations of pain, of anguish unheard,” Walz said. “Now generations of pain is manifesting itself in front of the world — and the world is watching.” Just moments after Walz addressed Minnesotans, Derek Chauvin, the Minneapolis police officer who knelt on Floyd’s neck even after he had become unresponsive, was arrested and charged with third-degree murder.
The protests have led many black leaders to amplify their demands for tangible commitments from Biden on pursuing racial justice. Those leaders mostly agree that at the very least, Biden should pick a black woman as his running mate. Meanwhile, the past week’s events have turned an unflattering spotlight on Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, who is seen as a top contender to be Biden’s vice-presidential choice. She has been dogged by complaints about her work as the Hennepin County attorney in the early to mid-2000s; in that position, she declined to prosecute multiple cases against police officers who had been involved in shootings. One such case involved Chauvin, though it was dismissed only after Klobuchar had left her post to join the Senate.
Twitter took its first step on Friday to rein in Trump’s onslaughts, attaching a warning to his tweet condoning violence against looters. It was the latest in an ongoing saga between the president and what is still his most-used social media platform (if perhaps no longer his favorite). Unlike the warnings Twitter pasted on two other Trump tweets last week, this one prevented the message from being seen on his feed unless users clicked to view it. Last week, angered that Twitter was putting limits on what he could say, Trump threatened to cut social media companies’ legal protections in lawsuits over defamatory speech, and he sicced his followers on an individual Twitter employee who he (falsely) said had censored him.
Demonstrators walked down an avenue in Brooklyn on Saturday. All weekend, they gathered across New York City, with peaceful protests interspersed with outbreaks of violence.
Many Republicans want Mike Pompeo to run for Senate in Kansas. Instead, they’ve got Kris Kobach.
For months, national Republicans had hoped that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo would return to Kansas and run for the Senate, confident that he could unite the party and keep the seat in Republican hands, as it has been since the 1930s.
But with Pompeo resistant to a run (not to mention mired in a congressional investigation into his use of State Department funds), and the June 1 filing deadline now at hand, Republicans are bracing for a messy intraparty brawl. And they’re increasingly anxious that a race in this deep-red state could be competitive in the fall.
Their biggest source of worry: the former Kansas secretary of state Kris Kobach, a hard-line Trump supporter who lost the governor’s race to Laura Kelly, a Democrat, in 2018. Kobach is a well-known, if polarizing, figure in the state, and some Republicans worry that he could win the primary but lose the general election to State Senator Barbara Bollier, a moderate Democrat from suburban Kansas City.
Anti-Kobach Republicans appear increasingly inclined to unite around Representative Roger Marshall, a deeply conservative congressman from the rural western part of the state. Any Democrat running statewide in Kansas faces a major uphill battle — but both Republicans would test whether there are limits to the success of a message rooted in fealty to President Trump even in Republican territory.