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From The New York Times, I'm Michael Barbaro. This is The Daily. Today, in the days since a man affiliated with a far right group was killed in Portland, Oregon, President Trump has sought to pin the blame on Democrats. In a major speech, Joe Biden tried to turn that story around. It's Tuesday, September 1st. Alex Burns, why did Joe Biden give this speech on Monday? Michael, it's a couple different forces, all really coinciding and they're coinciding at the moment when traditionally the campaign would get hot.
Just as a matter of the calendar. We have passed the two parties conventions. Labor Day is upon us. We're in the homestretch. And what has happened over the last few weeks is that a number of existing dynamics in the campaign have really intensified. And the stakes for both candidates, but particularly Joe Biden, because he's the challenger, have gotten higher.
The Republican convention last week, you won't be safe in Joe Biden's America was the most sustained negative attack on Joe Biden.
That has happened in this race, even, frankly, going back to a Democratic primary, just a relentless barrage on his political ideas.
His party anarchists have been flooding our streets and Democrat mayors are ordering the police to stand down on this message that Joe Biden is outside the mainstream and that he's in league with dangerous radicals in the streets.
That's obviously factually flawed message that coincided with a period of intensifying unrest and social disorder on the streets of cities like Portland, Oregon, and more significantly, for the purposes of a presidential election.
We are following breaking news out of Kenosha. Two people shot and killed overnight and we just learned one was shot in the head, the other shot in the chest.
Kenosha, Wisconsin, a crucial part of a crucial Midwestern swing state. All of this happening during the third night of unrest after Jacob Blake was shot by police.
You had the Republican convention unfolding at the same time as you had protests over the police shooting of Jacob Blake. That then culminated with the killing of two people by a 17 year old white gunman from out of state.
And then this past weekend, the plan was for thousands of the president's supporters to drive their decorated vehicles around Portland.
We saw Trump supporters driving through the streets of Portland, but some in the pro Trump caravan veered off the planned route going into the city's downtown core. We have startling confrontations with counter protesters unfolding, shooting paintball guns at protesters, clashing with them.
The evening turned deadly when a man standing in front of this parking garage was shot, culminating with a member of a far right group being shot dead.
And all of that then coincides with the nature of Joe Biden's political coalition, that he is entering the general election with a theory of how you win, that is based on putting together strong support from African-American voters of all ages, but including younger black voters who have been somewhat less enthusiastic about Joe Biden putting together their support with powerful backing from white moderates, including white moderates who are maybe a little to the right of center people who have voted Republican in the past, but who really find President Trump unacceptable.
And that is a tricky coalition to hold together at a moment of civil disorder like this.
And so the challenge for Biden at a moment like this is can you speak broadly across that coalition in a way that on the one hand gives people who are invested in a racial justice movement confidence that you are on their side, but also sends a message to people who are more concerned about law and order or public order or at least are simultaneously concerned about that, even if they're also concerned about racial justice, to send a message to them that, you know what, I get your concerns, too.
And into this tricky coalition and this conflict inherent in the Biden campaign comes a series of attacks, as you have indicated, at the Republican National Convention that appear very much designed to pit these two elements of the Biden coalition against each other by calling Biden lawless. Trump seems to be going after those moderate white voters and at the same time daring Joe Biden to challenge those young black voters in his coalition.
What you really saw the president and his party try to do last week was to set up a binary choice for Joe Biden that either you were on the side of the folks who are burning down stores in Kenosha or you are on the side of the police and President Trump. Presented with that choice has no difficulty saying which side he's on, that he's on the side of the police, and I think that translates to a lot of people as being on the side of white police against black rioters.
That's not a choice that Joe Biden wants to make, believes he has to make, because there isn't a sense, I think, on the Biden side of this race that there is some irreconcilable conflict between supporting racial justice and police reform and also supporting public order. But that's the wedge that the president tried all of last week to drive and that, even as we speak, is continuing to try to drive.
And that is the needle that Joe Biden was trying to thread in this speech on Monday.
That's right. Good afternoon. And I want to thank Carnegie Mellon. We're providing this space. So tell us about the speech. So we saw Joe Biden go to Pittsburgh to talk a little bit about what's going on right now and standing before a row of flags.
He came out and spoke to the issue of law and order and public safety.
We have to stand against violence in every form. It takes violence.
We've seen again and again and again of unwarranted police shooting, excessive force, talking about how he does see a complete difference between peaceful protest of legitimate grievances after events like the shooting of Jacob Blak, seven bullets to the back of Jacob Blake and the neck of George Floyd killing Brianna Taylor in her own apartment and what he called the violence of extremists and opportunist right wing militias, the senseless violence of looting and burning and destruction of property.
And he said something very clear about all of this.
Rioting is not protesting. Looting is not protesting.
Anything that falls into the latter category is not protesting. That is lawlessness. It's lawlessness, plain and simple. And those who do it should be prosecuted. And it's totally unacceptable. And it has to stop.
It divides instead of unites, destroys businesses, only hurts the working families that serve the community.
This is the kind of rhetoric that I think a lot of Democrats were looking for from Biden last week. And he got there a little bit later than they wanted him to.
But he very much got there today as president long ago forfeited any moral leadership in this country. He can't stop the violence because for years he's fomented it.
The speech was broader, though, than just a rebuttal on that one line of attack from President Trump. You saw Biden deliver.
I think it's fair to say a more complex argument than we've seen him give in any context in the general election besides his convention speech where he tried to turn around the issue of safety and public order against the president.
Does anyone believe that way?
Less violence in America if Donald Trump is re-elected and accused the president of being unwilling to denounce extremism and violent acts on the part of his own supporters said that Donald Trump looks at this violence and he sees a political lifeline.
Because he won't stand up to any form of violence. He's got no problem with right wing militia, white supremacist and vigilantes with assault weapons often better armed, and the police often do not know the violence.
The president has been behaving in a weak fashion because he won't take on his own supporters who are acting like an armed militia in this country.
That is something that we know really resonates with voters in the middle, this sense that Donald Trump will not take on the extreme right.
And so from the top of the speech, which was very much on defense, you immediately saw Joe Biden shift onto his front foot and try to make this a problem for the president.
He's supposed to be protecting this country, but instead he's rooting for chaos and violence. The simple truth is Donald Trump failed to protect America. So now he's trying to scare America.
That's when he gets into what I think is really the the core conceptual heart of the speech is trying to broaden the definition of feeling secure and feeling safe.
You really feel safer under Donald Trump.
We're now on track to more than two hundred thousand deaths in this country due to Kovik asking voters to look not just at acts of vandalism and violence in the streets, but at the covid pandemic and at the economic devastation of the covid pandemic.
Nearly one in six small businesses closed in this country today.
Do you really feel safer under Trump and then pushing back on the caricature that the Republicans drew of him? You know me. You know my heart, you know my story, my family's story and what I thought was kind of this disarming moment, looking into the camera and saying, ask yourself, do I look like a radical socialist with a soft spot for rioters? Really?
Do I look like a socialist radical to you? That rhetorical question tells you so much about the Biden candidacy that it has been a foundational political assumption of his from the beginning of this race, that the country just knows who he is and they know that he's a good and decent man, that at the end of the day, he believes people know him too well to buy this idea that in his heart he is happy when Canada is on fire and going after that Republican caricature of him.
Biden deployed this rhetorical device that we have heard him use a couple of times over the last week, which is to say this is Donald Trump and Mike Pence can't run on the record.
That has seen more American deaths to a virus, this virus, than the nation suffered in every war since Korea combined. Says they have no agenda or vision for a second term. And pants are running on this, and I find it fascinating, quote, You won't be safe in Joe Biden's America and what's their proof, the violence we're seeing in Donald Trump's America? These are not images of some imagined Joe Biden America in the future. These are images of Donald Trump's America today.
He keeps telling you if only he was president, it wouldn't happen if he was president. He keeps telling us that he was president, you'd feel safe. Well, he is president now.
I don't know that that's going to be terribly persuasive to people who see what's going on in Portland, see what's going on in Kenosha.
And they certainly don't feel that it's part of their current experience of America. They see that it's a sort of ghost of Christmas future. If we make the wrong choice, my community, too, could look like that. But I think for the broader audience that Joe Biden is speaking to, it is a useful reminder that this is not some. Hypothetical dystopia that the president is conjuring in his TV ads. These are scenes on the news. This is happening today.
Donald Trump is determined to instill fear in America. That's what his entire campaign for the president has come down to fear. But I believe Americans are stronger than that by the end of the speech, Biden has made the core of his argument very plain, which is that at this point in the race, the president's last resort, first resort as a resort in the middle, is to just try to scare the hell out of you.
And Biden's retort to that is that what should scare you is what's going on right now. It's not this distorted version of what a President Biden would do. It is what President Trump has done.
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Alex, in watching the speech, I was thinking about this essay by George Packer in the Atlantic over the weekend and it was called, quote, This is how Biden loses. And in it, Packer talks about this idea that the Trump campaign and the Republican Party's messaging around what's happening in American cities, that to some degree it's working, that Kenosha has placed the Democratic Party in a trap of a kind where they've embraced the protests, the message of the protest.
And while they've also denounced the looting and the violence, that that part of the message may not be getting through so clearly to some Americans and that that is a real problem for Biden.
So I guess my own read on things would be a little bit more cautious than George Packer's that I don't know that it's true that this is working.
I think that it has changed the conversation about the race that the President Trump is on offense in this way, really for the first time in a while after being on defense for so many months. Whether that's changing voters minds, I really don't know. And I don't think George Packer does either. I think there's a lot of sort of speculation and projection involved onto what white voters in the Midwest would probably think about this. But I do think that there is significant reason to believe, based on past experience, including the experience of 2016, that the president's current message would have considerable appeal to groups that he needs to peel away from Joe Biden in order to win the election.
So this is why Democrats were as nervous as they were last week and through the weekend.
On top of the fact that Democrats are always nervous about everything was just this feeling that, oh, my goodness, the president's doing it again and we are being too passive. What Biden did today, I think, will go a long way towards easing people's concern that.
Does he even know the right thing to say? I think Democrats look at the speech today and think he does know the right thing to say. And in fact, he sort of did know the right thing to say last week. He just maybe wasn't saying it as frequently as he needed to or as loud as he needed to. The speech today was pretty loud and we are going to see how often he intends to or feels he needs to reiterate that message.
Do you think it's true that at least until now, Americans have not heard the message from Biden and other Democrats when they have denounced looting? And if that's the case, why do you think it's the case?
I think it's true that we have not heard as much from Democrats about looting, vandalism, crime, social disorder, certainly relative to what we have heard from the Republicans and certainly relative to what we have heard from Democrats about police violence, that it's absolutely true that Democrats have been overwhelmingly focused on what they see as the actual main problem, which is racism in law enforcement and racism generally.
And that I think we saw last week from Biden, we saw last week from his running mate, Kamala Harris, these sort of asides about how inappropriate the violence is.
What we saw Biden do that was different on Monday was put that front and center that if you watched just the first three minutes of his speech, the big thing you would take away was Joe Biden thinks the riots are unacceptable. Mm hmm. I'm curious, Alex. Why didn't we hear about Portland and Kenosha directly beyond the mention of the victim of police violence in Canada? I mean, why was that, do you think?
I mean, isn't there a version of this speech where Biden blames the president far more explicitly for the violence in these places where he takes the president's talking point that liberal mayors and governors and the radical left have enabled and caused these scenes in American cities and flips it around and says, no, there have been three deaths in the past two weeks in these cities. And in my mind, they have been on you, Mr. President. I mean, to give the example of what happened in Kenosha, the young man who shows up in town with a rifle, Kyle Rittenhouse, who sees himself as an ally of the police, he ends up killing somebody in that city.
And he had attended a Trump rally, taped himself at a Trump rally and really celebrated his association with the president.
You know, I think there are Democratic candidates who might have gone there. Joe Biden is not one of those Democratic candidates that he has been pretty careful throughout this campaign. He launched his candidacy with a video talking about Charlottesville.
Well, it was there in August of twenty seventeen.
We saw Klansmen and white supremacists and neo-Nazis come out in the open, the white supremacist march there, and the killing of a young woman.
And that's when we heard the words the prison United States that stunned the world and shock the conscience of this nation and attacking the president, condemning the president for not unequivocally denouncing the white supremacists in that march.
She said there were, quote, some very fine people on both sides, very fine people on both sides. He never said the president is responsible for her death.
Her blood is on his hands. That's not something that we have heard from him really at any point in this race that he has a sense of what he feels the boundaries are in politics.
And I think that he has a sense of what the boundaries are, of what the public is going to consider credible and acceptable and fair that, you know, do you want to stake your candidacy and your argument here on the claim that you can draw a straight line from the president of the United States to a specific gunman and a specific killing? Maybe you do. There are probably candidates who would not balk at doing that. But what you saw Biden do, and this is what he has done from the start of the race, is make this more general argument that the president sets a tone.
The president has a role as a leader. And he can choose to divide or he can choose to unite, and what the president has done is incite violence broadly so that it's sort of a toxin in the system. It's not just this one thing that happened. I don't know whether the other approach would have been more effective in this setting, but I think that we're Biden did go is a place where I think broadly people in his party are comfortable with him going and where moderate voters are comfortable with him going.
There are people in the middle in the country who, as much as they dislike the president or distrust the president, there's only so far they'll go in just putting everything that happens at the feet of the president.
It's an underlying message of this entire speech from Biden was that as much as the president wants to talk about what's going on in a handful of American cities involving race protests, unrest, that what Americans really care about right now is the pandemic and the economic fallout from it, I wonder if, based on what we have seen over the past seven to 10 days, that the reality of this general election is that we're going to be spending a lot of time talking about this line of attack and counterattack between Trump and Biden over law and order protests, violence, and not as much about what Biden seems to be betting that voters care more about the economy in a pandemic.
You know, I think it's hard to say sitting here on the last day of August that the pandemic will certainly be the main voting issue on Election Day.
But based on our entire experience of this year, the pandemic and the economic devastation that it has created are really the foundational context for everything else that's talked about in this race. And the good news for Joe Biden is that for now and for nearly the entirety of the year, those are issues where the president has been at a disadvantage.
What's complicated for Joe Biden is that the specific places where he needs to win in order to carry the Electoral College are places where the law and order message and the message about crime and rioting and vandalism and disorder can have distinctive appeal even within the context of the pandemic.
That's the concern for Democrats.
That's the concern for the Biden campaign, that there will be a population of moderate voters, overwhelmingly white voters in the suburbs of the Midwest who will field some kind of tension between how they feel about the president's handling of the pandemic and who they trust on issues of law and order, and that some tiny sliver of those people, it might be more than a tiny sliver, but all it would take would be a pretty modest share of those voters flipping back to President Trump to suddenly make the advantage that Joe Biden has in the Midwest look much, much more tenuous.
Alex, thank you very much. Thank you. During a news conference at the White House on Monday night, your supporters were also in Portland this weekend, fired paintball guns at people, some for pepper spray. So do you want to also take this chance to condemn what your supporters did?
Well, I understand they had large numbers of people that were supporters, but that was a peaceful protest.
President Trump refused to condemn supporters who have attacked protesters in recent days, including those in Portland who fired paintballs into crowds.
And paint is not and paint as a defensive mechanism. Paint is not bullets.
Trump also declined to condemn Kyle Rittenhouse, the 17 year old Trump supporter accused of killing two people during the clashes in Kenosha.
That was an interesting situation. You saw the same tape as I saw, and he was trying to get away from them, I guess it looks like. And he fell and then they very violently attacked him and.
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Here's what else you need to know. Today, the Times reports that the number of coronavirus infections in the U.S. has surpassed six million. The latest evidence of how widely the pandemic has spread across the country since the start of the year. Overseas, India reached its own grim milestone. The country now has the world's third highest death toll after the U.S. and Brazil, with nearly 65000 killed by the virus. Meanwhile, infections are surging across much of Europe, including France, Germany and Greece.
But above all, in Spain, which reported more than 53000 new cases in the past week.
As of Monday, the coronavirus was spreading faster in Spain than in the United States.
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