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How Are Presidential Candidates Responding To Violent Protests?


Protests and street violence in this country compel us to follow a few differing narratives. One narrative is the simple statement of facts. Protests against police violence and protests on the other side have triggered violence in Kenosha, Wis., and Portland, Ore. In Portland over the weekend, pickup truck drivers flying Trump flags clashed with protesters. Somebody opened fire, a person was killed, and a far-right group in Portland claims the man killed was a friend of theirs. We will keep seeking facts. And keep in mind how much we do not yet know in this developing story. So that's one narrative.

Then there's the narrative of the presidential politics, which are not necessarily related to the facts. NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson is here to discuss this. Hey there, Mara.


INSKEEP: So this is a big deal for both main presidential candidates. How does President Trump view the violence?

LIASSON: I think he is - thinks the violence will help him underscore his law-and-order message that really dominated last week's Republican convention. You heard speaker after speaker say, quote, "You won't be safe in Joe Biden's America." The president has been focusing on the protests rather than on the shooting of a Black man that sparked them in Kenosha. He was very active on Twitter yesterday, close to 90 tweets. After a person was fatally shot in Portland, he tweeted, big backlash going on in Portland. He liked a tweet supporting Kyle Rittenhouse. That's the 17-year-old Trump supporter who's been charged with two homicides in Kenosha. He's been retweeting approvingly about the caravan of Trump supporters heading into Portland, calling Black Lives Matter supporters thugs. Clearly, the president thinks this plays to his advantage.

INSKEEP: But with that said, you said - that slogan was, you won't be safe in Joe Biden's America. But this is all happening in Donald Trump's America. Trump is president. How does he argue that he's not responsible but would somehow make it better?

LIASSON: Right. Well, this is a tough argument. He's showing pictures of violence that are happening on his watch and saying, this is what would happen if Biden was president. He says two contradictory things - I alone can fix it, and it's not my responsibility. His campaign makes the point that these are Democrat-run cities. Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff, explained it in a very us-versus-them way yesterday on "Meet The Press."


MARK MEADOWS: Most of Donald Trump's America is peaceful. It is a Democrat-led city in Portland that we're talking about this morning who just yesterday denied help, once again, from the federal government.

LIASSON: So there you have it. You have Donald Trump's America, and you have another America. But it is true. On Friday, Portland's mayor said no thanks to Trump's offer to send in federal law enforcement agents. He said, quote, "When you sent the feds to Portland last month, you made the situation far worse."

INSKEEP: OK. So the president is running against Joe Biden, the nominee of the Democratic Party. What might this - how might this affect the presidential race?

LIASSON: Well, we don't know yet. Some polls show the race tightening, which both Democrats and Republicans expected to happen regardless of these events. The Trump campaign clearly thinks this works for them. They think people are turning on this issue, caring more about the riots than about racial justice. There are some polls showing support for Black Lives Matter dropping. And Kellyanne Conway, the president's adviser, said the other day that the more chaos and anarchy and violence there is, the better it will - the clearer the choice will be for the law-and-order candidate.

But Biden is pushing back pretty forcefully. He's blaming Trump for fanning the flames of hate and division. He's hoping that when suburban voters look at this violence and chaos, they will see Trump as part of the cause, not the solution, and they will see him as the bring-us-together candidate.

INSKEEP: In a few seconds, how are the candidates planning to handle the finally - final 60-some days?

LIASSON: Well, we're going to see more in-person campaigning. Of course, Trump is going to go to Kenosha on Wednesday. Biden also is going to get out on the campaign trail. And then you're going to have the debates. Those are the big set piece events that I think will be more important than ever this year.

INSKEEP: NPR's Mara Liasson. Thanks, as always.

LIASSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.