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The Morning Dispatch: Riots in Wisconsin
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The Morning Dispatch: Riots in Wisconsin

Plus, can the GOP avoid distractions and stay on message during the convention?

Happy Wednesday! Whether you vote for Democrats or—according to Speaker Nancy Pelosi—“domestic enemies” to the Constitution, we hope your week is going well. 

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • The United States confirmed 38,236 new cases of COVID-19 yesterday, with 5.9 percent of the 645,910 tests reported coming back positive. An additional 1,217 deaths were attributed to the virus on Tuesday, bringing the pandemic’s American death toll to 178,465.

  • Just days after Tropical Depression Marco made landfall in Louisiana, Hurricane Laura is intensifying and is expected to reach the Gulf shore as early as Wednesday night.

  • American Airlines announced plans to reduce its workforce by 19,000 employees when CARES Act provisions expire on October 1. “It was assumed that by Sept. 30, the virus would be under control and demand for air travel would have returned,” the company’s top executives wrote. “That is obviously not the case.”

  • Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers declared a state of emergency following widespread unrest in Kenosha after the police shooting of Jacob Blake.

  • FDA Commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn apologized this week for touting misleading data about convalescent plasma at a White House event on Sunday. “What I should have said better is that the data show a relative risk reduction not an absolute risk reduction,” he wrote.

Protests Continue Over Jacob Blake Shooting 

Three months after the death of George Floyd rattled the nation, the police shooting of another black man this week—caught once again on camera by bystanders—has brought anti-police protests and rioting roaring back. Jacob Blake, of Kenosha, Wisconsin, was shot in the back repeatedly by police, in front of his children, as he leaned into the driver’s seat of his car following a scuffle in a residential neighborhood Sunday. Blake was airlifted to a hospital, underwent surgery, and is still alive, but reportedly paralyzed from the waist down. The officer responsible is on administrative leave and has not been charged with a crime.

The details surrounding the shooting remain extremely murky. Bystanders say Blake had been trying to break up a neighborhood fight, but publicly available footage doesn’t begin until after the point at which police had moved their focus to him; he had reportedly been tased. With several guns pointed at him, Blake walked away from police, around the front of his car, opened the door, and leaned inside as an officer tried to pull him back. Then the officer opened fire, striking him seven times.

The event has sparked multiple nights of unrest in Kenosha—situated squarely between Chicago and Milwaukee —and around the country. The saga is reminiscent of Minneapolis in the days following the Floyd shooting, with protesters clashing with police and outbreaks of vandalism and looting.

“I knew it was going to be a disaster, but I didn’t know what a disaster would look like until I saw it,” Kenosha store owner Scott Carpenter told reporters in front of his burned-out business Tuesday. “We didn’t do anything to anybody. Why did we deserve it?”

Blake’s family members have called for the officer who shot him to face justice, but have also urged protesters to remain peaceful. “We’re encouraging people to protest peacefully, not to be destructive,” Blake’s uncle Justin told local TV station TMJ4 yesterday. “This isn’t just about Jacob Blake. This is all the children that walk out the door in the morning, and their mother and fathers have to worry about them because of the color of their skin.”

In the state capital of Madison, peaceful protests and calls for calm by community leaders earlier in the evening gave way to violent riots and looting after midnight. Demonstrators smashed windows and set dumpster fires after issuing a list of demands. Christian Schneider covered the protest for The Dispatch and reports “They want passage of a law banning no-knock warrants, such as the one used in the killing of Breonna Taylor by police in Louisville, Kentucky. They demanded passage of the ‘Hands Up, Don’t Shoot’ law, which would require the immediate arrest of any officer that kills an unarmed individual. And finally, they urged ‘community control’ of the local police force, which would allow citizens to overrule law enforcement practices and decisions.”

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers declared a state of emergency amid the unrest, saying “we cannot allow the cycle of systemic racism and injustice to continue,” but that “we also cannot continue going down this path of damage and destruction.”

The Biden campaign followed suit, drawing a bright line between the protests and the destruction in a statement. “As Joe Biden said in the aftermath of George Floyd’s horrific murder: Protesting such brutality is right and necessary,” senior campaign advisor Symone Sanders said. “It’s an utterly American response. But burning down communities and needless destruction is not. Violence that endangers lives is not. Violence that guts and shutters businesses that serve the community is not.”

President Trump has not commented directly on the shooting, but suggested in a Tuesday tweet that Evers should call in the National Guard.

Meanwhile, the GOP has made urban unrest a major plank of their election pitch to voters this year.

“It’s almost like this election is shaping up to be church, work, and school vs. rioting, looting, and vandalism,” Donald Trump Jr. said at his convention speech Monday night. “Or, in the words of Biden and the Democrats, ‘peaceful protesting.’”

Trump on Paper vs. Trump in Reality

If last night’s Republican National Convention programming was, somehow, your initial foray into American politics, you’d be shocked to learn the candidate Tuesday’s festivities were in support of is not cleaning up with the political center, and is in fact trailing his opponent by 9.3 points in the polls.

The RNC’s second evening—dubbed “Land of Opportunity” night—featured a diverse array of voices bearing witness to President Trump’s leadership over the past four years. Myron Lizer, the vice president of the Navajo Nation, praised Trump for delivering “the largest financial funding package ever to Indian Country.” A Maine lobster fisherman and a Wisconsin dairy farmer detailed how Trump’s trade and deregulatory policies saved their industries, and a police officer in New Mexico shared a heartwarming adoption story to point to the Trump administration’s fight against the opioid crisis. A video narrated by Vice President Mike Pence—and filmed outside Abraham Lincoln’s Indiana* childhood home—highlighted the real-world impact of the Trump administration’s school choice, right-to-try, tax reform, and economic nationalism initiatives.

Sen. Rand Paul commended Trump for seeking to “end war[s]” rather than start them, while Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (speaking in his “personal” capacity) lauded the president for leading “bold initiatives in nearly every corner of the world.” Cissie Graham Lynch, the granddaughter of evangelical leader Billy Graham, praised the president as a “fierce advocate” for people of faith. Planned Parenthood employee turned pro-life activist Abby Johnson said Trump has “done more for the unborn than any other president,” and Covington Catholic High School student Nicholas Sandmann shared his story of being defamed by an overzealous news media, thanking Trump for his “unwavering support.”

First lady Melania Trump boosted her husband as an “authentic person who loves this country and its people and wants to continue to make it better” in a speech from the Rose Garden. And Hatch Act questions be damned, Trump himself made two surprise appearances via pre-recorded videos, pardoning reformed bank robber Jon Ponder and, alongside Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf, overseeing the naturalization ceremony of five new American citizens.

On paper, that is a winning package. So why isn’t it winning?

Because, despite many in the party’s best efforts over the past three-and-a-half years, the Trump administration has proved incapable of sticking to the message it put forth last night.

Abby Johnson is emblematic of the disconnect. She delivered a powerful condemnation of Planned Parenthood—and the practice of abortion more broadly—that will resonate with a sizable chunk of voters, particularly in swing states. But because the Trump campaign did not rigorously vet her—or did and was not dissuaded by what they found—coverage of Johnson’s speech today will be diluted by her recent comments about her adopted “brown son” being “more likely to commit a violent offense” than her white sons and her advocacy, lasting until moments before she spoke, of head-of-household voting.

“Angel Mom” Mary Ann Mendoza was scheduled to speak last night about the immigration system—an embargoed copy of her remarks was emailed to political reporters just before 8 p.m.—but the Trump campaign scrapped her involvement at the last minute after she shared an anti-Semitic QAnon post on Twitter.

Other discrepancies have more to do with policy. Trump welcomed five new naturalized citizens in front of a TV audience yesterday, but his administration has worked for years to reduce immigration—legal and illegal alike—and, even before the pandemic hit, it dramatically cut the cap on refugee resettlement in the United States to all-time lows. Trump pardoned Ponder yesterday and signed the First Step Act into law in 2018, but his second-term agenda calls for “end[ing] cashless bail” and “keep[ing] dangerous criminals locked up until trial,” and he signed an executive order earlier this summer authorizing the federal government to throw anyone vandalizing monuments in jail for up to 10 years.

Melania Trump began her speech with a heartfelt note for “everyone who has lost a loved one” to COVID-19. “I know many people are anxious and some feel helpless. I want you to know you are not alone,” she said. “Donald will not rest until he has done all he can to take care of everyone impacted by this terrible pandemic.”

But she was the only speaker last night to express such sympathies, and one of only a handful of speakers to mention the virus at all. On a day where 1,217 Americans lost their lives due to COVID-19, White House National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow referred to the pandemic in the past tense.

The coronavirus obviously disrupted and warped it, but the Trump campaign has a message to sell to voters, and they sold it well last night. If they can convince Americans that what they saw on their TV screens from 8:30 p.m. to 11 p.m. on August 25 is what the Republican Party stands for, Trump won’t be down 9.3 points in the polls for long. Unfortunately for the Trump campaign, only 17 million people tuned into the RNC on Monday night, down 26 percent from the GOP’s first night in 2016 and 13 percent from the first night of the DNC last week.

Worth Your Time

  • On August 3, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan issued an executive order barring local communities from shutting down in-person learning within their jurisdictions, reminding them that “private and parochial schools deserve the same opportunity and flexibility to make reopening decisions based on public health guidelines.” In Commentarys September issue, Matthew Continetti argues that this executive order was a turning point for the nationwide debate over school reopenings in the COVID-19 era. Many worried parents have pulled their children from public schools after learning of district closures, fearful that continued online instruction will stunt learning. Continetti writes: “Political polarization and interest-group maneuvering have turned a complex debate that should be conducted with nuance, an appreciation of difference, an eye for trade-offs, and the children’s best interests always in mind into a moralistic, absolutist shout-fest filled with cheap shots and alarmism.”

  • We didn’t know our item on election disinformation yesterday would be so timely! In a piece for Foreign Affairs, Commander of the U.S. Cyber Command Gen. Paul Nakasone and his senior adviser Michael Sulmeyer outlined Cyber Command’s evolving approach, from defensive to proactive. The pair write about a partnership between Cyber Command and the NSA to protect against meddling in the 2018 midterms, pledging to do the same over the next few months. “Experts from both organizations formed the Russia Small Group (RSG), a task force created to ensure that democratic processes were executed unfettered by Russian activity. It shared indicators of potential compromise, enabling DHS to harden the security of election infrastructure. It also shared threat indicators with the FBI to bolster that organization’s efforts to counter foreign trolls on social media platforms.”

Presented Without Comment

Also Presented Without Comment

Toeing the Company Line

  • In the days leading up to the Republican convention, the GOP decided it wouldn’t release a new party platform. Instead, the RNC passed a resolution stating that the party “enthusiastically support[s] the President’s America-first agenda,” which can be summarized by a list of bullet points that fails to mention religious liberty, the Constitution, or even abortion. As David argues in Tuesday’s French Press, “The party was now plainly organized around a person.” But the key takeaway is that the GOP’s absence of any concrete policy platform doesn’t matter to Trump’s base. To Trump’s biggest supporters, the president’s Democrat-hating disposition is all they need.

  • New fall fellow James Sutton gets his first Dispatch byline with a report on the wildfires sweeping Northern California. He explains why these fires, which are consuming hundreds of thousands of acres, are in some ways less challenging for firefighters than the fall fires that are caused by the Santa Ana winds. “While the current fires are extremely large, they have, for the most part, occurred in low density areas. Wind-dominated fires, however, can spread to cities and towns much more easily. “

Let Us Know

If you’re not currently planning to vote for Donald Trump this November, is there anything that could happen at the RNC this week that would change your mind?

Reporting by Declan Garvey (@declanpgarvey), Andrew Egger (@EggerDC), Charlotte Lawson (@charlotteUVA), Audrey Fahlberg (@FahlOutBerg), James Sutton (@jamespsuttonsf), and Steve Hayes (@stephenfhayes).

Photograph by Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images.

Correction, August 26, 2020: This newsletter previously said Vice President Pence filmed his RNC video outside of Abraham Lincoln’s childhood home in Kentucky. Although Lincoln was born in Hodgenville, Kentucky, Pence’s remarks were actually filmed at the Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial in Spencer County, Indiana. We regret the error.