Trump: "The main victims" of riots are "law-abiding African-American citizens"

The riots breaking out in America’s urban centers over the use of lethal force by law enforcement has given Donald Trump an opportunity to paint himself as a “law and order” candidate that appeals to suburban and rural voters. Does it also give the Republican nominee an opening to appeal to black voters? Trump made that pitch last night in suburban Wisconsin, not far from Milwaukee’s unrest over a recent police shooting that the mayor and police chief defended as justifiable. Trump argued that the real victims of unrest aren’t suburban voters, but the law-abiding residents where law enforcement is most needed:

Donald Trump made his most direct pitch yet to African American voters Tuesday, connecting the recent violence in nearby Milwaukee to what he described as the plight of African Americans nationwide.

The midwest city experienced two nights of unrest after a black police officer fatally shot a black man who police said was armed and a threat.

“Law and order must be restored,” Trump said in this mostly white suburb an hour north of Milwaukee. “It must be restored for the sake of all, but most especially for the sake of those living in the affected communities, of which there are many.”

Trump called blacks the “main victims” of the riots in Milwaukee. “It’s their jobs, it’s their homes, it’s their schools and communities that will suffer the most as a result,” Trump said. “There’s no compassion in tolerating lawless conduct for anyone.”

ABC takes issue with the venue, and notes that Trump’s outreach has been limited, at least until now:

But Trump’s speech was at odds with his surroundings: The rally took place 40 miles northwest of Milwaukee — far away from the embattled streets he spoke of — in West Bend, whose population is only 1 percent African-American, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2014 statistics. And while Trump courted African-American voters inside, outside the venue, Confederate flags were being sold by a vendor.

Also, Trump has declined invitations to speak at the NAACP, Urban League and the recent National Association of Black Journalists/National Association of Hispanic Journalists convention.

Vendors at these events aren’t usually connected with the campaign itself. The point about the NAACP convention is better taken. That took place the weekend before the start of the Republican convention, and was also held in Ohio — in Cincinnati, in fact. Cincinnati is the urban core of Hamilton County, a key battleground for Republicans in the presidential election, and also featured in my book Going Red. Thanks to a dramatic population decline over the past 46 years, the city is nearly evenly divided between white and black residents. An appearance would not have been a logistical impossibility, and would have been a good launchpad for Trump’s outreach to the African-American community.

Still, this is a promising if somewhat late start on engagement. But it is important to go to the communities themselves, to talk with residents and voters and grasp what their issues and priorities actually are. Trump has a good argument to make on these issues, one that has been mostly overlooked in the debate over law enforcement policies. Making that argument in Milwaukee, or in Cincinnati, would be much more powerful, especially if Trump could win over community leaders and present a more united front.