There was never a doubt that he’d end up taking this position. The doubt lies in how much of his progressive base will support him on it.

Biden’s forever having to balance pandering to suburbanites with pandering to lefties. With a proposal as extreme as defunding the local PD he has no choice but to put suburbanites first. Trump knows it too and is probably going to go on hollering that Biden wants to abolish the police even after today’s statement. It’s no-lose for POTUS: Motivated progressives will ignore Trump and focus on Biden’s actual position, to their annoyance, whereas more casual centrist voters might be misled by the president into believing that Biden really does prefer the radical option.

Police reform is a tricky issue for both nominees, though, because the politics of it aren’t as clear-cut as they used to be. Frank Luntz is marveling at the sea change he’s seeing in polls this month:

Biden wants to show centrist suburban voters that he’s more worried about crime than the “abolish the police” contingent on the left is. He can’t afford to let Trump convince persuadables that Democrats have been captured by the Berniebros. Trump has the opposite problem, though — his instinct is to project toughness at all times, but if he comes off as indifferent to racial reconciliation centrists may hold it against him. That’s why, amid all the “law and order” chatter, his advisors are reportedly mulling a formal address in which he’ll condemn the killing of George Floyd and call for national unity. If Biden’s worried that by siding too much with his base he’ll be seen as weak by swing voters, Trump’s worried (or should be worried) that by siding too much with his own base he’ll be seen as callous. Hence the speech:

After a weekend of massive peaceful protests around the country, White House officials are currently deliberating a plan for President Donald Trump to address the nation this week on issues related to race and national unity, as Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson hinted in an interview with CNN on Sunday and a senior administration official said was under serious consideration…

“I believe you’re going to be hearing from the President this week on this topic in some detail. And I would ask you maybe to reserve judgment until after that time,” Carson said.

“Unifying” is a word that popped up in Axios’s account of Trump’s messaging too:

President Trump’s top political advisers, in a private meeting last week, said their boss needs to add more hopeful, optimistic and unifying messages to balance his harsh law-and-order rhetoric.

Why it matters: They’re deeply concerned about “brutal” internal polling for the president in the aftermath of his handling of the coronavirus pandemic and George Floyd’s killing…

“There’s a thought that we need to shift to be much more cohesive in terms of a message of healing, rebuilding, restoring, recovering … a theme that goes with COVID and the economy and the race stuff,” said a senior adviser to Trump…

“He has to tone down the most incendiary rhetoric, talk about law and order in the context of riots, and at the same time say the country’s united that what happened to George Floyd can never happen again,” a second adviser familiar with the internal discussion said.

It’s not who he is, though. They can write him a presidential-sounding speech and he’ll deliver it half-heartedly, as he usually does with formal addresses, but then he’ll say or tweet something within 24 hours that undercuts the message. He can’t help it. He doesn’t believe in “national unity,” he believes in tribal unity. Look no further than the fact that he routinely boasts about how popular he is within his own party, never mind what the rest of the country thinks. I think he concluded after 2016 that his base is big enough, and loves him enough, that they can beat anything the Democrats throw at them, never mind that they couldn’t even deliver more votes for him than Hillary Clinton got.

Trump’s “base first, base only” strategy has hurt him in two ways, notes Harry Enten elsewhere today. It’s convinced him that he doesn’t need to do much reaching out to the center to get reelected, which is wrong and almost tragic considering that Trump was uniquely well positioned as a Republican president to appeal to the center. His fans will forgive him almost any policy heresy so he wasn’t bound ideologically to conservative orthodoxy (in word, if not in deed) the way all Republican presidents since Reagan have been. He could have done more to pander to swing voters and gotten away with it. Meanwhile, his belief in the invincibility of his base has led him to overlook the fact that Biden’s currently doing just as well, if not better, within his party as Trump is doing with Republicans. Enten points out that Biden is winning more Democrats (94 percent) in live-interview polls this week than Trump is GOPers (92 percent). If POTUS recognized the opportunity he had in the center, he would have already adopted his advisors’ “toughness with compassion” approach to try to win those voters over instead of spending his time doing heavy-handed religious photo ops because he’s suddenly terrified of losing evangelical voters. Evangelicals will be there for him in the end. Swing voters won’t be.

Now that we’re more than three years’ deep into his presidency, though, it’s silly to strategize about winning over centrists. That cake is baked. If he was going to try to broaden his appeal across the electorate, the time to start was early 2017, not in summer 2020 as he’s suddenly fallen way behind Biden in national polling. “Base first, base only” is the only strategy available to him now; if he wins over enough centrists to get reelected, it won’t be because he’s convinced them he’s a nice guy, it’ll be because the economy rebounded well enough before November that they’re voting their pocketbooks in spite of everything. Even if he goes through the motions of delivering a soothing “unity” address this week, he’ll be right back to picking culture-war fights afterward, almost as if to underline the fact that he didn’t really mean it:

His advisors should just let him be who he is. If nothing else, it’ll make it a tiny bit harder for him to scapegoat them if he loses this fall. If they get him to read a touchy-feely, obviously insincere speech, he’ll complain that he lost because he was perceived as “weak.” If only he’d been even more Trumpy he would have been reelected in a landslide.