VIRGINIA: Hi. This is Virginia (ph) from Seattle, Wash. I just sent my firstborn off to college this morning, and I'm feeling a little sad. This podcast was recorded at...
SCOTT DETROW, HOST:
It's going to be OK. That's a tough happy and sad feelings moment. It's 2:16 Eastern on Tuesday, Sept. 1.
VIRGINIA: Some things may have changed by the time you hear this. OK, here's the show.
(SOUNDBITE OF THE BIGTOP ORCHESTRA'S "TEETER BOARD: FOLIES BERGERE (MARCH AND TWO-STEP)")
TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: I'm feeling sad, and our kids are, like, barely in school.
DETROW: Oh, change - it's OK. Some change is good. Some change is good.
Hey there. It's the NPR POLITICS PODCAST. I'm Scott Detrow. I cover the presidential campaign.
ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: I'm Asma Khalid. I also cover the campaign.
KEITH: And I'm Tamara Keith. I cover the White House, which is basically the campaign.
DETROW: Certainly in the last few days. And to that point, last night in the White House briefing room, President Trump, during the course of a press conference that very much sounded like a campaign event, defended the 17-year-old white man who allegedly shot and killed two protesters with a military-style rifle after he had allegedly traveled to Kenosha, Wis., last week in a vigilante protection attempt.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: He was trying to get away from them, I guess, it looks like. And he fell, and then they very violently attacked him. And it was something that we're looking at right now, and it's under investigation. But I guess he was in very big trouble. He would have been - he probably would have been killed. But...
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Do you think...
TRUMP: It's under investigation.
DETROW: And a little more context here before we talk about it - he's talking about a video here. There are a lot of different videos out there. All of them show pretty chaotic scenes. But, Tam, what jumps out to me is after an intense focus from Trump and Republicans to say it was Democrats who aren't condemning violence, the president is expressing support for someone who has been charged with homicide.
KEITH: You know, President Trump has been reluctant - I don't know what the right word is, but he has not wanted to condemn or separate himself in any way from people who are affiliated with him, support him, have an affinity for him who have been involved in violent incidents.
DETROW: And we're talking about this today because the president is just beginning a trip to Kenosha, Wis. What is on his agenda, Tam?
KEITH: What the official word is is that he is going to Kenosha to thank the first responders and thank people like the National Guard, who he credits with ending the protests. He also said that it would boost enthusiasm, and let's not forget this is a key battleground state.
DETROW: And, Asma, you were in the never-not-weird, reporter-only, socially distant audience yesterday for Joe Biden's speech in Pittsburgh. You know, we talked about it on the podcast right after the speech ended, but you were there. I mean, what have you seen from the way that the Biden campaign is trying to turn all of this back on President Trump, the way that he's making all of this into a campaign issue?
KHALID: You know, I have been struck, Scott, by the sort of uniform message that we've been seeing from Joe Biden, from Democrats, from the Democratic Party nationally to flip the script and say that, you know, as much as Republicans will say that you're not going to be safe in Joe Biden's America, their consistent message has been, well, you're living in Donald Trump's America. And how safe do you feel here?
DETROW: And one thing that I also wanted to talk to you about, Asma, because I've been thinking a lot about it in the last week or so since Kenosha has become this hotspot of protest after this shooting of - police shooting of Jacob Blake is that you were up in Kenosha talking not only to voters but talking to protesters earlier this summer. I mean, what from that reporting trip jumps out to you, and what have you been thinking about in the last week or so?
KHALID: One thing that is hugely important to keep in mind is that President Trump won Kenosha County in 2016, and he was the first Republican in more than 40 years to win that county. And it was incredibly tight. It was 255 votes. I just went back and counted that.
KHALID: I mean, that is crazy, crazy tight. And, you know, everyone talks about how tight Wisconsin was. Well, Kenosha County is like a microcosm of how tight really everything was. It was less than half of 1%. And, you know, I have been checking in a little bit with some people that I talked to before. And one person I spoke to just yesterday - I was on the phone with her - was the Democratic county chair in Kenosha County. And she acknowledged that, you know, people are aware, both Republicans and Democrats, of just how important their county is politically.
And what I think is worth keeping in mind, though, is, you know, there was some hand-wringing among Democrats nationally about, well, what is this all going to mean for Joe Biden? What I've been hearing from her, and what I think is the case sort of broadly from what we've been seeing, is that largely, the response to this has fallen along partisan lines. You know...
KHALID: Democrats did not want the president to come to their community today. But I got a letter of support from a couple of Republican county supervisors who were encouraging him to come and saying, we want you to be here. We would be so honored if you'd come here.
KEITH: And just to, like, spell that out on the ground, pool reporters are sending back reports from the president's motorcade as he travels through town. And they describe a mix of pro-Trump signs, people waving "blue lives matter" flags and Trump 2020 paraphernalia, and people holding up Black Lives Matter signs and, you know, giving the president's motorcade a one-finger salute and other descriptions of people getting out on the streets as the president is coming through to indicate their feelings. The pool reporters are describing this as more intense than usual.
DETROW: Well, let's broaden this out a little bit before we take a break because I think there's a lot of reasons why what happened in Kenosha really caught the national attention. The fact that Jacob Blake was shot in the back, I think, made it a really explicit moment of anger for people who have been very attuned to police shootings, right? I think the fact that it happened during the Republican Convention that was so focused on this law and order message played a big deal in it. But I think there's also the political fact that, of three states that Trump flipped and that we've obsessed on ever since, Wisconsin is probably the closest state, the one that Republicans feel like they have the best chance of keeping. And I feel like that plays an enormous role in all of this, right?
KEITH: Yeah. And the other thing that stands out about this is the president's law and order message talking about chaos in the streets. That's exactly what President Trump wants people talking about right now. That's at the centerpiece of his campaign. But every time he gets on-message, he also gets off-message. And so he - there in Kenosha, he's not going to be meeting with Jacob Blake's family because the connection couldn't be made. Some family members have said they don't want to hear from him.
KHALID: I mean, and we should be clear, though, that Democrats also do interpret the president's visit as, you know, politically symbolic too to some degree. You mentioned the family of Jacob Blake not meeting with President Trump, Tam. Well, the family of Jacob Blake is hosting - or was hosting this community gathering earlier today at the site of where Jacob was shot. And it was a community cleanup event we were told, a healing circle. And notably also, there was a voter registration booth there.
DETROW: All right. We're going to take a quick break. When we come back, we're going to put some more context to all of this conversation about violence and crime and what it means for the presidential campaign.
All right, we're back. And as we've been talking about for the last few days now, both campaigns are saying they're condemning rioting, looting and violence generally. But there's a big tonal difference. Joe Biden and Kamala Harris have made it very clear they support peaceful demonstrations. They support Black Lives Matter. They think there is a very valid reason to be out in the streets. And President Trump is really - you know, he'll say at times that he supports peaceful protests. But overall, he characterizes these events as mayhem and out-of-control violence and the fact that it's happening in cities where Democrats are in charge. And I've noticed that he's specifically attacked a lot of protests and condemned them that have, in fact, actually just been peaceful protests.
KEITH: Well, one of his campaign allies on a campaign call with the press said peaceful protests don't happen at night, which is a really weird statement.
KHALID: That sounds like something your mother would say to you when you're, like - she doesn't want you to go out when you're, like, 10 years old - right?
DETROW: Nothing good's happening after 11 p.m. or whatever.
KEITH: What President Trump and his allies are trying to do here is make it a very black-and-white situation, which is to say that he really is presenting this as there are protesters in America who are enemies of America, and he is the arbiter of what is American.
KHALID: You know, there's a Democrat I was talking to in Kenosha who told me that she doesn't really consider these to be protests - the ones that she's attended. She's considered them more to be marches and vigils. And I was thinking back to, you know, the protest I went to in Kenosha shortly after George Floyd was killed, and it was notable to me that there were so many non-Black faces in the crowd, right? There were so many white residents of the community who had come out. And so, you know, to your point, Tam, it's not as if this has become a purely black-and-white issue also along racial lines.
DETROW: Asma, one of the things that really jumped out to my ear when we were listening to Biden yesterday - you from the room, me from, you know, my back bedroom - is that Biden kept going on this kind of turning Trump's arguments back and pointed out the increased murder rate, saying that it was happening on Trump's watch. So both campaigns are kind of putting murder stats, crime stats out there, certainly the Trump campaign in a lot more explicit of a way. So let's just pause for a moment and put some context in here.
In large cities across America, murders are up sharply. Other violent crimes have decreased. The overall crime rate in the top 25 large American cities is actually down 5% compared to the same period from last year, violent crime down a little less than that. But the murder rate in these cities is up 16% in relation to last year. And I guess my takeaway from this is that the actual statistics are not quite lining up with the way they're being talked about in the presidential campaign right now.
KEITH: Well, and in fact, this is breaking through. There have been some polls, including a Pew poll, that showed that worry about crime is moving up on the list of concerns of voters, which Trump allies consider a success. And it's based more on perception than on reality on the ground, which is that, you know, things are - in terms of violent crime are generally pretty OK.
KHALID: But, you know, whether or not it's violent crime, what I have heard from folks throughout interviews this summer was a concern about just sort of the unity or the tension around the country around racial issues. And there is this concern that people have about burning or looting in their own community. You know, we saw this. We heard a lot about this in Chicago as well, that there is - you know, whether or not it's violent crime per se, that there's a concern about the racial divisions in this country and what that might mean for their own community.
DETROW: And this is all happening at a time when millions of people have lost their jobs, right? The entire economy has been disrupted. People's day-to-day lives have been disrupted. Like, there are so many drastic changes happening right now, and it's all going into this pot of tension and uncertainty for people all across the country.
DETROW: So last question for both of you amid all of this uncertainty and just the general uncertainty of the final weeks of a presidential campaign where it all gets much more intense - right? We have so many theories out there of how the conventions did or didn't affect the standing of the race. But as we get a wave that we're expecting of public polls - the ones that NPR does with its partners, the ones that other big news outlets do - I'm curious, like, what trend lines you'll both be looking for right away, what you'll be, you know, control-F looking for when we get all of the polling in the next few weeks or so hopefully.
KHALID: One, I guess, demographic group that I'm really interested in better understanding if we see any movement would be suburban voters and particularly women in the suburbs. And I say that because we saw a shift of suburban voters away from President Trump since 2016. I'm curious, given all of his rhetoric in recent weeks, which clearly seems to be a play for the suburbs, if we see any of those voters shifting back towards him.
KEITH: Why does it feel like every election is all about the suburbs, but this election just really feels like it's all about the suburbs?
DETROW: Yeah. I mean, 2018 - that decided the control the House of Representatives. And I think there's a pretty good argument it's going to decide the White House as well.
So Asma, Tam, yet again this has been a very heavy conversation on the podcast. That's, like, the theme of the year, right? I think it makes mental breaks - it makes finding space for fun even more important. So on that note, just to note that on Thursday, September 3 at 8 o'clock, we are hosting our first-ever virtual trivia night. So you can flex your political knowledge and hang out with Ayesha Rascoe and Danielle Kurtzleben and head to nprpresents.org to RSVP.
I'm Scott Detrow. I cover the presidential campaign.
KHALID: I'm Asma Khalid. I also cover the campaign.
KEITH: And I'm Tamara Keith. I cover the White House.
DETROW: Thank you for listening to the NPR POLITICS PODCAST.
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