Will the Violent Crime Surge Spark Electoral Pushback?
Rich Lowry writing in Politico thinks so. His piece is titled, “Democrats Ignore the Crime Spike at Their Own Peril.”
On the anniversary of the death of George Floyd, dozens of gunshots rang out in the middle of the day at George Floyd Square in Minneapolis, forcing reporters and bystanders to duck and cover.
The symbolism was unmistakable—the yearlong bout of protest and activism after Floyd’s killing has coincided with a surge of urban crime that has made gunplay dismayingly common.
Will the electorate react in next year’s elections?
The issue of public safety may be about to play its most significant role in our politics since the mid-1990s, the beginning of a decadeslong decline in crime that steadily eroded its political salience.
Donald Trump tried to make law and order a defining issue in 2020, but the rioting he so forcefully denounced was, in most places, too transitory to become an overwhelming issue. He was also in the awkward position of trying to run against disorder as an incumbent rather than a challenger, and his chaotic governing style wasn’t a good match for a message of orderliness.
I might add that Trump’s mission was complicated by his support for the First Step Act, whose intent and effect has been to erode accountability for criminals by providing for shortened sentences and early release. This significantly muddied Trump’s anti-crime message.
But now, more than a year into a serious crime wave, Democrats should beware—they are fooling themselves if they think they won’t be blamed for a rise in violence in Democratic-run cities that clearly, at some level, is a result of police forces feeling beleaguered and overwhelmed.
Overall, murder increased by more than 25 percent in the United States last year, the biggest jump in 60 years. Murders jumped nearly 50 percent in New York City. Crime increased 36 percent in Los Angeles. And the story is the same in city after city.
Almost all of the major cities that have seen the astonishing spike in crime are run by Democratic mayors who couldn’t say enough in behalf of “criminal justice reform” and other such notions that blame crime on everyone and everything but criminals.
Surely, the dislocations of the pandemic have been a factor, but it’s also obvious that anti-police agitation has put the cops on their back feet. Exhibit A is Minneapolis.
In the fevered days and weeks after the killing of Floyd, the City Council pledged to do away with the police department, among the most outlandishly unachievable and self-destructive promises ever made by an elected body. Of course, it couldn’t follow through on it, anymore than it could have followed through on a promise to eliminate traffic lights or municipal snow removal.
Still, cops have left the force in droves, while crime has soared. Murders, rapes, robberies and assaults increased 25 percent last year, with the rise much steeper, more than 60 percent, in the neighborhoods surrounding the intersection where Floyd was killed.
The notion that you can publicly savage, shrink, and defund your police force and wind up with the “Summer of Love” (as the clueless mayor of Seattle said last summer) is so asinine that reality was sure to be quick in striking back. It has.
The impeccably progressive mayor of Minneapolis, Jacob Fry, who desperately wanted to ingratiate himself at a tribunal-like rally last summer, but, to his credit, wouldn’t commit to defunding the police, now occasionally sounds like he’s channeling Rudy Giuliani circa 1993.
“The violence needs to stop, its unacceptable,” he said at a community meeting a couple of weeks ago. “We should be holding these perpetrators accountable.” He added that “when you make big, overarching statements that we’re going to defund or abolish and dismantle the police department and get rid of all the officers, there’s an impact to that.”
Another dyed-in-the-wool progressive, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler, faced with ongoing unrest that once was blamed on Trump, has called for the city’s residents to “take the city back” from rioters and for unmasking, arresting, and prosecuting them.
Los Angeles cut its police budget by 8 percent in the wake of the Floyd protests, and now is basically adding the funding right back. In South Los Angeles, the LAPD is increasing patrols and vehicle stops to search for guns and gang members.
Yes, it’s all true. It turns out that crime is caused by criminals, and that the cops are not the problem but the solution (or part of the solution) to the problem. What a revelation!
Irving Kristol famously said a neoconservative is a liberal who has been mugged by reality. If progressive politicians who are now sounding friendlier to the police haven’t been mugged by reality, they at least have been alarmed by the sound of approaching gunfire.
Lowry then explains the possible political outcroppings:
The problem that Democrats have is that they have either made themselves—or allied themselves with people making—a comprehensive case against the police as systematically racist. This doesn’t naturally allow for nuance, and, in fact, logically entails calling for fewer cops and less police funding.
This is an agenda that will be hard to sell to most people in the best of circumstances, but it is toxic in an environment of rising crime.
Black Lives Matter has already been losing support in the polls, while trust in the police has been rising. Things would have to get orders of magnitude worse for crime to become as central an issue as it was in the 1970s. But safe streets is a non-negotiable expectation of all voters. It’s why “law and order,” whether wielded demagogically by George Wallace or much more responsibly by Ronald Reagan, has such power.
Democrats who aren’t alarmed that reporters can’t do standups at the George Floyd memorial without dodging bullets are tempting political fate.
I should add here that it’s not solely the Democrats who’re at fault. A few Republicans have also taken a prominent hand in promoting “criminal justice reform.” Indeed, as noted above, Donald Trump himself was a key player in getting the First Step Act over the hump. But it remains the case that “criminal justice reform” is much more popular with Democrats than with Republicans, and support for the police much less popular.
The Left might think that the hour has arrived in America when the “cops-are-thugs-and-criminals-are-martyrs” narrative is now a winning strategy. I wish I were more confident that they’re wrong. But it gives me a degree of solace that, when they thought the same thing in the Sixties and Eighties (admittedly with a less overtly anti-American tone), they reaped the electoral consequences they sowed.