Clinton, Trump: Two Views of Policing in America

Clinton, Trump: Two Views of Policing in America
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As Hillary Clinton convened a private roundtable of top law enforcement officials in New York Thursday, Donald Trump tested his aim with an M-4 rifle at a North Carolina gun range with members of the Fraternal Order of Police in tow.

Shootings this summer in Minneapolis, Dallas, Baton Rouge, La., and, most recently, Milwaukee, have elevated the complex issue of police-community relations and put into stark relief the presidential candidates’ competing assessments of the problem – with Trump making the theme of “law and order” a fixture of his campaign and Clinton attempting to balance support and sympathies for the Black Lives Matter movement with those in blue.

“The chaos and violence on our streets, and the assaults on law enforcement, are an attack against all peaceful citizens. If I am elected president, this chaos and violence will end – and it will end very quickly,” Trump said in Charlotte, N.C., on Thursday night. “Every single citizen in our land has a right to live in safety.”

In his address, the first since Trump changed his campaign team, he also expressed “regret” for some things he has said on the campaign trail, explaining that in the heat of the battle, at times “you don’t choose the right words, or say the wrong thing. I have done that.”

Earlier in the day, Trump received the endorsement of the North Carolina Fraternal Order of Police and told them in a brief meeting that he was “1,000 percent” behind law enforcement.

Trump’s call for law and order has evoked the specter of the Nixon era. The campaign welcomed the comparison during the party convention last month, but those Republicans who want the nominee to expand his base were chagrined.

This week, Trump tried to hone the pitch to appeal to minorities, incuding African-Americans, 99 percent of whom view him negatively in polls. Speaking from a script at a rally in a majority white area near Milwaukee, Trump said law and order must be “restored for the sake of all, but most especially the sake of those living in the affected communities.”

Trump called for more law enforcement and more effective policing, while framing Clinton as being “against the police.” Trump called for an end to the “war on police,” arguing that it impedes government’s duty to keep its people safe – “especially those Americans who have not known safety for a very, very long time.”

In Charlotte , Trump continued on this theme: “Jobs, safety, opportunity. Fair and equal representation. This is what I promise to African-Americans, Hispanic-Americans, and all Americans.”

Trump has been criticized for failing to make overtures to African-American communities, beyond speeches, and his poor standing among this constituency is startling, even though Republicans overwhelmingly lose this demographic to Democrats in presidential elections.

And while Trump is hoping to capitalize on the electorate’s fear and anxiety, stirred up by turmoil and violence in American cities and abroad, some strategists say Trump’s racially charged rhetoric throughout the campaign impedes his ability to make his security message appeal to a broader swath of voters. 

“Trump has stopped getting the benefit of the doubt from many moderate suburban white voters who normally would be open to his message on law-and-order issues, but recoil from the divisive nature of his earlier rhetoric around immigration, both on race and religion,” says Mike DuHaime, a Republican strategist and veteran of the Chris Christie and Rudy Giuliani campaigns. “Clinton benefits on the issue because she can appear more reasonable than Trump. His rhetoric on immigration allows her to move farther to the center on law-and-order issues without any real fear of losing voters on the left.”

Clinton’s balancing act on the issue was on display at her party convention in Philadelphia, with one night dedicated to Mothers of the Movement – women who have lost children to gun violence ­– and another to law enforcement officials mourning loved ones who died in the line of duty. During the program, she also highlighted her efforts in the Senate to secure benefits for 9/11 first responders. The campaign also touts her first policy speech as a presidential candidate last year, in which she lauded police departments “deploying creative and effective strategies, demonstrating how we can protect the public without resorting to unnecessary force.”

But she has also been hit forcefully by progressives and members of the Black Lives Matter movement for her support of President Bill Clinton’s 1994 crime bill, which critics say disproportionately affected blacks and led to mass incarceration. Clinton apologized for the “super predators” term she used in the 1990s, which Bernie Sanders called “racist” during a Democratic primary debate earlier this year.

On Thursday, Clinton met with eight law enforcement officials from major cities including Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and New York. In attendance was outgoing New York City Police Commissioner Bill Bratton, who said in a CBS interview earlier this month that Trump “scares” him.

“I just don't get it in terms of the support for him," Bratton told "CBS This Morning.” "The lack of depth on issues ... the 'shoot from the hip.' I've just watched his whole campaign and I just shake my head."

While Clinton’s meeting with police was planned before Trump’s law-and-order speech in Wisconsin, it identified a potent issue for the Democratic nominee.

“It's obvious that recent events, from Dallas and Baton Rouge to Milwaukee and across the country, underscore how difficult and important the work is ahead of us to repair the bonds of trust and respect between our police officers and our communities,” she said in opening remarks. “We have to be clear-eyed about the challenges we face. We can't ignore them, and certainly we must not inflame them.”

Caitlin Huey-Burns is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at chueyburns@realclearpolitics.com. Follow her on Twitter @CHueyBurnsRCP.

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