President Trump resumed television advertising following the National Republican Convention with two racially-incriminated commercials that aired in Minnesota and Wisconsin.
Trump's ads show he's trying to replicate his 2016 success by instilling racial resentment against white voters in regions of the upper Midwest who have grappled with painful decline in manufacturing jobs for decades.
His spot in Minnesota shows people jumping through broken shop windows with guns full of stolen goods and protesters watching a Minneapolis police station burn down during the riot that broke out after George Floyd, a black man, was hit by a white officer in May who kneeled on his neck for more than eight minutes.
“Outlaw criminals are terrorizing Minneapolis. Joe Biden kneels down, ”said a woman of Trump's Democratic challenger before a picture of Democratic Congresswoman Ilhan Omar of Minneapolis wearing a hijab flashes on the screen. "The weak response from Biden and radicals like Ilhan Omar has led to chaos and violence."
The ad, which Trump aired in neighboring Wisconsin, shows protesters in Kenosha who, in riot gear, hurled debris and fireworks at the police after an officer in the small town outside of Milwaukee called another black, Jacob Blake, seven times had shot his three children in the back. Blake, paralyzed from the waist down, remains in the hospital.
Trump's misrepresentation of Biden as an advocate of arsonists and vandals who have marred a small portion of recent nationwide protests against police brutality and racism prompted the former vice president to respond with his own ad in Minnesota, Wisconsin and other battlefield states.
"I want to be absolutely clear: riot is not a protest," says Biden in the ad. “Looting doesn't protest. It is simply lawlessness, and those who do it should be prosecuted. "
Biden also accused Trump of fueling the riot himself by refusing to prevent armed right-wing vigilantes from joining the police who faced Black Lives Matter protesters.
"Fires are burning and we have a President to light the flames," says Biden on the spot. "He cannot stop the violence because he has fomented it for years."
David Paul Kuhn, author of The Hardhat Riot, a book about white-collar workers, said Biden's response was essential to mitigate the effects of Trump's racist appeals in the Great Lakes.
"I think Democrats should be concerned if Biden takes his foot off the gas to take control of law and order and not let Trump do it," he said.
Minnesota and Wisconsin are among the whitest states in America. Minnesota's population is 79% white. Wisconsin is 81%. The nation as a whole is 60% whites, 19% Latinos, 13% blacks, and 6% Asian Americans.
A Black Lives Matter demonstration in Pittsburgh on June 7th.
Trump's new ads ran more than 1,800 times in the past week in Minneapolis, Rochester, and Duluth, Minnesota, and Milwaukee, Madison, Green Bay, La Crosse, and Wausau, Wisconsin, according to Advertising Analytics, an ad tracking company. The large reach suggests that rural and small town voters are just as much a target as those in the suburbs. According to the social media company, Facebook variations of the ads were mostly viewed by men.
Trump won rural areas with huge profit margins in 2016 and hopes to do so again, in part, by getting thousands of votes from people who normally skip presidential elections.
It's unclear whether his racist appeals can win back suburban voters, particularly college graduates who have left the Republican Party in droves during Trump's presidency.
Polls by the Marquette Law School show that white voters' support in Wisconsin for protests against Black Lives Matter fell from 59% in June to 45% last month, just before Blake was shot in Kenosha. At the same time, white voters' disapproval of Trump's handling of the protests remained high, rising from 55% to 57%.
Anna Greenberg, a Democratic pollster, is skeptical of the effectiveness of Trump's approach, especially with suburban women. They want "peace and order," she said, but Trump is adding to the chaos.
"They feel more divided than ever and want us not to be like that," she said. “Conflict is scary. Racial conflicts are even more frightening. "
In 2016, Trump's nativist appeals were critical to his narrow wins in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania, the states that sealed his electoral college majority, despite receiving 2.9 million votes behind Hillary Clinton nationwide.
Trump only lost Minnesota by 1.5%. No Republican presidential candidate has won Minnesota since Richard Nixon in 1972, but Trump has re-targeted it.
His efforts to gain political gain from the racial turmoil over Floyd's murder recalled his attempts in 2016 to capitalize on white voters' discomfort with tens of thousands of Somali immigrants in the Minneapolis area.
At a rally in Minneapolis two days before the 2016 elections, Trump lamented, "Large numbers of Somali refugees came to your state without your knowledge, support or consent, and some of them then joined ISIS and spread their extremist views throughout us Country. ”He did not provide any details to support his allegations.
Trump portrayed himself at the party conference as a staunch ally of black Americans. But his new advertisements reflect his opposition to the largely peaceful demonstrations by millions of Americans denouncing racist prejudice in the criminal justice system.
Trump's racist appeals to battlefield states scattered across the country come at risk as he seeks support in the suburbs of cities like Phoenix. Detroit; Philadelphia; Charlotte, NC .; Atlanta; Houston; and Orlando, Fla.
"He's trying to use these incidents of violence to unsettle white voters, especially in the suburbs," said Lawrence Jacobs, a political scientist at the University of Minnesota.
It's not just the sporadic outbreaks of violence during the protests that could work in Trump's favor, he said. Jacobs suggested that some of the rhetoric used by the Liberals in Minneapolis recently to challenge white privilege alienated white voters in rural and small towns, long plagued by economic troubles.
"The drive for racial justice undoubtedly speaks eloquently about black identity, and understandably so," he said. "There's not much appreciation for how it also triggers white identity and it creates a tremendous opportunity for Donald Trump to interfere."