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Stirewaltisms: The Space Between ‘Back the Blue’ and ‘Defund the Police’
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Stirewaltisms: The Space Between ‘Back the Blue’ and ‘Defund the Police’

How Republicans botched the issue of police brutality, and Democrats have botched the issue of crime.

Police tape at a crime scene. (Photo by Brandon Bell/Getty Images)

There is a diversity of opinion among Americans about police, with strong currents relating to ethnicity and partisanship running through them.

A recent poll from Quinnipiac University will tell you something you probably already know: The people who have the greatest confidence in police officers to do the right thing “almost all of the time” are Republicans (39 percent), white males (29 percent), and white Americans without college degrees (29 percent). Compare that to Democrats (9 percent), adults under the age of 35 (15 percent), and black Americans (11 percent). 

We are not here to explain why those differences exist, but certainly at least some substantial part of those differences relate to the real experiences Americans have. But not all of it, and maybe not even most of it. The 30-point delta between Republicans and Democrats almost certainly reflects assumptions from our highly partisan media and the politicization of the issue. 

But when we pull back just a bit, a clearer story emerges. Sixty-two percent of all Americans “trust the police to do what is right either almost all of the time or most of the time” while 36 percent “trust the police to do what is right either only some of the time or hardly ever.” Independent voters were less confident in police than Republicans by 22 points and 14 points more confident than Democrats.

This tracks with a general improvement discovered by the Pew Research Center in public opinion about police brutality, racial bias, and accountability since 2020. In the wake of the murder of George Floyd and other grievous incidents, public confidence dipped  but has subsequently returned to levels recorded in 2016. The police are still substantially underwater, but by 10 or 15 points, not 30 or 40. 

But the rebound did not happen in one key area, the most important one politically: “protecting people from crime.” In 2016, 62 percent of Americans said police were good or excellent at their jobs. That dropped to 58 percent in 2020 and now stands at 47 percent.

This helps us see how Republicans and then-President Donald Trump botched the handling of the issue of police brutality in 2020 and how Democrats subsequently botched the issue of crime. In both cases, partisans were thinking too much about the police, not the work we ask the police to do. “Back the blue” and “defund the police” are both very much at odds with mainstream public opinion on the issues of crime and policing. 

There is deep skepticism about how and when police exert their authority and force, but also deep desire for police to use their authority and force effectively to deter crime. Those who suggest that the tension between those things can ever be fully resolved are either naive or being facile. Voters who aren’t totally besotted by partisanship know this to be true.

We get two great examples this week of the proof of that. First, the defeat of Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot in the city’s Democratic primary and the announcement by President Joe Biden that he would sign legislation that effectively upholds the veto of Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser of a D.C. city council bill that would have, among other things, decreased the penalties of carjackings. 

Democrats from coast to coast have been getting religion on crime, from New York Mayor Eric Adams, to the tough-on-crime mayoral race in Los Angeles to the defeat of former San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin. And I expect we will see the trend continue into 2024 as the party gets ready for an election in which Republicans will again make crime a top issue.

Holy croakano! We welcome your feedback, so please email us with your tips, corrections, reactions, amplifications, etc. at STIREWALTISMS@THEDISPATCH.COM. If you’d like to be considered for publication, please include your real name and hometown. If you don’t want your comments to be made public, please specify.


Biden Job Performance
Average approval: 44.0%
Average disapproval: 51.2%
Net score: -7.2 points 

Change from one week ago: ↑ 1.2 points                        
Change from one month ago: ↓ 0.6 points

[Average includes: Fox News: 44% approve-55% disapprove; Emerson: 44% approve-50% disapprove; NPR/PBS/Marist: 49% approve-45% disapprove; Gallup: 42% approve-54% disapprove; Reuters/Ipsos: 41% approve-52% disapprove] 

Polling Roulette


New York Times: “KLADNO, Czech Republic — The boisterous fans in the standing section at CEZ Stadion unfurled a giant banner last week. It bore the unmistakable, bearded likeness of Rytiri Kladno’s owner, as fans across the arena serenaded him and presented him with a birthday cake after the game. Owners of sports teams rarely enjoy such adoration, but this one is Jaromir Jagr, who is also one of Kladno’s best players: Not just in its history, but now, in 2023, at age 51. … Still good, Jagr was once truly great, starring in the N.H.L. over 24 seasons on nine teams, winning two Stanley Cups with the Pittsburgh Penguins … and tallying 1,921 points, second only to Wayne Gretzky’s 2,857. …With no major corporations in Kladno, Jagr is arguably the city’s greatest resource. David Spiller, a taxi driver … estimated Jagr was better-known globally than even Vaclav Havel, the writer, statesman and president from 1989 to 2003. … ‘Of course, Havel was very important. But that was for a short time. Jagr is still playing.’”


Washington Post: “Thus far, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) has handled former president Donald Trump’s barbs like pretty much every other Republican does: largely by ignoring them outright. … But the Trump-DeSantis battle is brewing. Indeed, assuming DeSantis actually runs, the race between them is set up like few others before, in a way that practically demands that kind of direct confrontation. … Right now, it’s a two-candidate race with little modern precedent. …. [N]ot only are they each other’s biggest competition for the nomination; they’re also cannibalizing each other’s potential bases of support. … DeSantis will be reluctant to go too hard after Trump, for fear of needlessly alienating Trump’s supporters. But once he’s in and they’re on the debate stage together, a clash will be very difficult to avoid. ” 

Delegates in mind, Trump woos state parties: Cook Political Report: “A top priority for the Trump campaign is to ensure that state Republican parties’ delegate selection plans would benefit a candidate like theirs who has a high floor, but low ceiling of support from GOP voters. … 80 percent of the delegates came from states that used ‘some sort of winner take all rule.’ This rule, of course, allowed Trump to rack up delegates, even as he failed to dominate the field. … Given the Trump campaign’s intensive focus on ‘cultivating relationships’ with state parties who decide these rules, many argue that a crowded field will once again benefit Trump. At the very least, goes the thinking, Trump’s GOP opponents need to be more confrontational with Trump earlier in the process if they want to dethrone him. Sitting and waiting for Trump to lose altitude isn’t going to happen on its own. Someone has to pop that balloon.”

CPAC, Club for Growth take up Trump-DeSantis proxy war: Politico: “While Donald Trump headlines CPAC’s large annual confab of activists, conservative media and firebrands in Washington, D.C., Ron DeSantis is set to be the main draw at the Club for Growth’s private retreat for donors in Palm Beach. … There’s also little overlap between the speakers and attendees, another sign that the conservative ecosystem is engaged in a battle for the future of the party, with Trump as a main divide. … [O]ther potential 2024 candidates attending Club for Growth’s retreat are former Vice President Mike Pence, Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) and New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu.”

2024 hopefuls skip CPAC as event loses its luster: New York Times: “For decades, the Conservative Political Action Conference occupied a center ring in Republican politics. In 1974, Ronald Reagan used the inaugural event to unveil his brand of optimistic conservatism, describing a “city on the hill” to the conservative activists. … Now, as the party’s voters, donors and officials consider a future that may not include Mr. Trump as their leader, some Republicans say the decades-old CPAC gathering has increasingly become more like a sideshow than a featured act… Gov. Ron DeSantis…does not plan to appear. Gov. Glenn Youngkin of Virginia…and Gov. Kristi Noem of South Dakota…also are not expected to address the gathering. … The only other well-known presidential candidate attending is Nikki Haley.”

Tie goes to the … GOP? Center for Politics: “If there is a tie, Republicans continue to have an advantage in the House tie breaking procedure, and they are very likely to retain it following the 2024 election, regardless of which party wins the overall House majority.

That’s because in the House tie breaking vote, each of the 50 states gets a single vote, and a majority of the votes (26) are required to select a president. … Republicans currently control 26 of the 50 House delegations, the bare minimum needed to elect the president in a House vote. Democrats control 22, and a pair of states — Minnesota and North Carolina — are split. … Meanwhile, it’s exceedingly difficult to imagine Democrats getting to a bare majority themselves in the midst of an otherwise competitive national election.” 


Slotkin launches Michigan Senate bid—Detroit Free Press

Breaking down the four factions of the House Democrats—FiveThirtyEight

Georgia Judge chastises chatty grand jury foreperson—ABC News


“That should be self-explanatory.”—Attorney General Merrick Garland explaining to the Wall Street Journal why “Shake it Off” is his favorite song by Taylor Swift, an artist he came to be a “reasonably big fan” of in shared carpool singing alongs with his then-school aged daughters. The song is a nod to Garland’s near miss on confirmation to the Supreme Court during the Obama administration. 


“For Scott and Haley, I simply don’t see how their campaigns take flight solely based on the answers to Sean Hannity’s question: ‘Can you tell me of your policy differences between you and Trump.’ A) Shouldn’t you have an answer [and list] several things? B) How hard would it be to say, should I lose I won’t send a riotous mob to the Capitol? C) I don’t think belittling people is the way to bring the country together. D) As a person of color I probably would be able to address racial issues. E) I probably am in the camp that sees an essential role for America in the world rather than one that retreats. I mean the list is endless isn’t it? Things you could say that would be differences that won’t upset the base too much?”—Earl King, Colts Neck, New Jersey

The best lines in politics are the ones you don’t have to deliver. What the Republicans are looking for is someone they so truly believe is different from Trump that he or she doesn’t even have to say it. Scott could still do that, but Haley seems so far trying to prove the ways she IS like Trump — including her visit to CPAC—that she looks to be a long way from silent reassurances of mainstream GOPers. 

“I have to chuckle: when you had the daily email several years ago, you would occasionally quote what I had sent; the past few months, my older son, Michael of Winston-Salem, has several times won your photo contest and today you published a letter from him about my 1990 tax proposal to pay for universal private health insurance. … My opponent, of course, did much as did Joe Biden, but I don’t think it really hurt me. Scott, on the other hand, without providing any rationale, went out and so far as I can tell never did make the case for his proposal. … But I am not a BBQ guy like Michael.”—John Johnson, Tucson, Arizona

I feel very honored that these notes have become a family tradition for the Johnsons! And I would submit that everyone is a barbecue person, they just need to find the right smoke. 

You should email us! Write to STIREWALTISMS@THEDISPATCH.COM with your tips, kudos, criticisms, insights, rediscovered words, wonderful names, recipes and, always, good jokes. Please include your real name—at least first and last—and hometown. Make sure to let me know in the email if you want to keep your submission private. My colleague, the equitable Nate Moore, and I will look for your emails and then share the most interesting ones and my responses here. Clickety clack!


Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks at a press conference on January 18, 2023. (Photo by Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket/Getty Images)
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks at a press conference on January 18, 2023. (Photo by Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket/Getty Images)

Mama mia, you people are funny! Another fabulous photo selected by our great patron, Rachael Larimore, and another bumper crop of funny cutlines. (And more for the Stirewaltisms Uncensored file.) A strong finish to our February contest with lots of entrants homing in on some similar jokes about Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ ideological variability (we give the nod to first arrivals when we have multiple entries) but only one of you saw the concentric circles of comedy around former President Donald Trump’s “Meatball” nickname for his rival and one of the great ad campaigns of yesteryear. *chef’s kiss* 


“Now that’s a spicy meatball!”—Nathan Wurtzel, South Riding, Virginia

Winner, You’re So Vane Division:

 “Feels like the wind is blowing pretty MAGA.”—Kevin Hodge, York, Pennsylvania

Winner, Hansel’s So Hot Right Now Division: 

“I’ll bet Don is insanely jealous of this smolder, too.”—Dave Kilborn, Saskatchewan, Canada

Winner, Is That Freedom Rock Division:

“Could I hitch a ride to New Hampshire? I’ve got snacks.”—Allen Marby, Dallas, Texas

Winner, Stacked Heel Division:

“Higher. Make sure my campaign cutout is at least six feet tall!”—Bryan Kohan, Raleigh, North Carolina

Winner, Reedy Creek Improvement District Division:

“Even though he hasn’t formally announced a run for the Presidency, Governor Ron DeSantis is seen here showing the crowd which pose his animatronic will use in the Hall of Presidents at Disney World.”—Scott Simonini, Norton, Mass

Winner, Trans-Rubicon Division:

“Ronaldus DeSantis appears in the Circus Republicanus, Milwaukee, A.D.

MMXXIV.”—Linda McKee, DuBois, Pennsylvania

And now, for the winner of our February contest … None other than Mr. Wurtzel himself. Please email us your address so that we can send you your prize: an Alka-Seltzer promotional booklet on U.S. presidents from the 1930s. Plop, plop, fizz, fizz …

Now, onward to March! 

Send your proposed cutline for the picture that appears at the top of this newsletter to STIREWALTISMS@THEDISPATCH.COM. We will pick the top entrants and an appropriate reward for the best of this month—even beyond the glory and adulation that will surely follow. Be hilarious, don’t be too dirty, and never be cruel. Include your full name and hometown. Have fun!


KDFW: “Police in the Fort Worth suburb of Lake Worth arrested two siblings in connection to what they call an organized theft ring. The suspects, 19-year-old Dexter Goynes and 22-year-old Destiny Goynes, are accused of stealing thousands of dollars worth of scented candles and other merchandise from a Lake Worth retail store. Officers reportedly spotted Dexter at the store on Monday.  He took off when they tried to pull him over, but he was arrested a few minutes later in the Oaks neighborhood, police said. Police later arrested his sister in connection to the case and recovered dozens of candles. Both are charged with engaging in organized criminal activity. Lake Worth police are still looking for a third suspect involved in the theft ring. They are also working with law enforcement officials from five other agencies who suspect the Goynes siblings are connected to similar crimes in their cities.” 

Chris Stirewalt is a contributing editor at The Dispatch, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and the author of Broken News, a new book on media and politics. Nate Moore contributed to this report.

Chris Stirewalt is a contributing editor at The Dispatch, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, the politics editor for NewsNation, co-host of the Ink Stained Wretches podcast, and author of Broken News, a book on media and politics.