Watch out for Trump Becoming the ​'Law-and-Order'​ Candidate

With demonstrations outside and inside of Donald Trump’s campaign rallies erupting, and sometimes turning violent, Team Trump, ever on the lookout for a game-changing strategy, may see these incidents as an opportunity to brand The Donald the “Law and Order” candidate. Picture Trump kicking off the final months of the campaign with: "We'll give you the greatest amount of law and order that you've ever seen. There will be so much winning law and order that you might get tired of things being so quiet." 


When protesters made some noise at a recent Trump rally inside the Anaheim Convention Center in Anaheim, California, Trump shouted—as he has done many times over the past several months—“Get ‘em out. “Out! Out! Out!” This time Trump added: “Don’t hurt ‘em. See what I say? Don’t hurt ‘em. I say that for the television cameras … Do not hurt him, even though he’s a bad person.”

Over the past several months, Trump himself has spoken about punching protesters in the mouth.

Outside the Convention Center, pro and anti-Trump supporters squared off against each other for most of the day. By nightfall, according to reports, police arrested a handful of mayhem-creating anti-Trump protesters.

As the Washington Examiner recently editorialized, “If Trump wins the general election in November, he should send fruit baskets to the organizers of the latest unrest. They are generating sympathy for him by ensuring that a noisy proportion of his supporters are identified as asses who need to be defeated.”

"The more barbaric the 'protesters' act, the more votes they will drive toward the target of their barbarism," Robin Heid, M.A., a libertarian political scientist who says the anti-Establishment campaigns of Trump and Sanders are exactly what the U.S. political process needs right now, told me in an email. "It is well-documented that the violent disruption of the 1968 Democratic Convention contributed significantly to Hubert Humphrey's defeat by Richard Nixon - even though it was later determined that the Chicago police perpetrated far more of that violence than did the protesters. That is why the leftist media is trying so hard to pin the barbarism at Trump rallies to the candidate and his supporters instead of reporting the well-documented fact that the violence is almost exclusively anti-Trump barbarians."

Using “law and order” as a political campaign slogan is American as posting food photos on Instagram; sending deranged tweets; and retired National Football League players with CTE.

One doesn’t have to go far back into our history to understand how the “law and order” meme has been manipulated and demonized minorities and political protesters. Aimed at generating public support, the cornerstones of “law and order” campaigns are exaggeration, claiming your opponent is soft on crime, and maintaining that he/she doesn’t support the police.

Over the years, many candidates have invoked “law and order” themes in their campaigns. “Part of what makes ‘law and order’ such a powerful slogan is its amorphous quality, its ability to appeal to different people at different times with different issues," Michael Flamm, an historian at Ohio Wesleyan University, told citylab.com’s Daniel Denvir.

Denvir pointed out that “In the late 1960s and early 1970s, conservative political figures from both major parties, including big city mayors like Philadelphia's Frank Rizzo and Los Angeles' Sam Yorty, pointed to crime, riots and black activism in the urban north as a pretext for a law-and-order crackdown.”

According to Denvir, “In 1964, Barry Goldwater's presidential campaign took the ‘law and order’ agenda” to a new level. "The growing menace in our country tonight, to personal safety, to life, to limb and property, in homes, in churches, on the playgrounds, and places of business, particularly in our great cities, is the mounting concern, or should be, of every thoughtful citizen in the United States," Goldwater warned in his nomination acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention.”

Richard Nixon’s 1968 presidential campaign solidified “law and order” as a winning theme, with Nixon’s running mate, the eventually-to-be-disgraced Spiro Agnew leading the charge.

While the ’68 “law and order” campaign specifically targeted black and anti-war activists, Trump’s modern day reboot has the Black Lives Matter movement and marauding immigrants in its crosshairs.

Trump is not new to “law and order” themes. According Denvir, during the early Republican Party debates, Trump “repeatedly refer[ed] to his followers as the ‘silent majority.’” He also pointed out that Baltimore was set “back 35 years in one night because the police weren’t allowed to protect people. We need law and order!”

Conventional politics

At the upcoming Republican Party convention in Cleveland, thousands of anti-Trump demonstrators are expected to mobilize to protest Trump’s racist and xenophobic policies. It’s also possible that pro-Sanders/anti-Clinton demonstrations could take place when the Democrats convene in Philadelphia.

The late Yogi Berra is famously credited for saying, "It's like déjà vu all over again." Riots in Cleveland may give Trump its déjà vu moment as a reprise of the 1968 Democratic Party convention in Chicago, when the whole world watched the Chicago police carve up demonstrators. Chicago ‘68 led to a Democratic Party torn asunder, could enable Team Trump to reboot the “law and order” theme of Nixon’s 1968 victorious presidential campaign.

These days, as in months past, it is challenging to get a grip on what Donald Trump really thinks. And, I would venture to guess that it appears that for many of his supporters, it really doesn’t matter what The Donald thinks. His pronouncements about building the greatest wall on the Mexican border and having Mexico pay for it and banning Muslims from entering the country are now “suggestions” that could be walked back; his positions on abortion and Planned Parenthood appear to be in flux, but that’s still good enough for Phyllis Schlafly, the Grand Dame of the Christian Right, who thinks it’s perfectly okay for him to shift toward the center on key moral issues.

When the Republicans meet in Cleveland in July, Team Trump could be counting on anti-Trump demonstrators getting violent, with police pushback guaranteed. When the Democrats convene in Philadelphia, Team Trump is hopeful – and may even encourage provocateurs – that violent demonstrations will become the story.

If law and order re-emerges as a major theme in the final months of the campaign, mostly white male Americans, threatened by the demographic changes in the country, might be drawn to Trump with one last hope for sustaining the crumbs of white privilege. The election year narrative then changes from a candidate’s competence to a candidate’s ability to rein in the chaos. And, all to often in the end, reining in the chaos trumps competence.

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