For months, President Trump has tried to squeeze Joseph R. Biden Jr. from both sides on racial justice issues. While he’s made unfettered loyalty to police officers a cental tenet of his campaign, Mr. Trump has also sought to damage Mr. Biden’s standing with Black voters with reminders of the 1994 crime bill Mr. Biden wrote, parts of which the former vice president says he now regrets.
In Michigan, which message voters see depends on where they live.
Tuesday morning in Grand Rapids, viewers saw a Trump campaign ad slamming Mr. Biden and his running mate, Senator Kamala Harris of California, for “refusing to strongly condemn violence” as “America’s cities burned” in the unrest following the police killing of George Floyd.
Two white men identified as veteran police officers warned that “we’ll all be in danger” if Mr. Biden is president.
At the same hour in Detroit, the Trump campaign debuted an ad featuring clips of then-Senator Biden making the case for the 1994 crime bill, which included mandatory minimum sentences that increased mass incarceration.
“It doesn’t matter whether they’re the victims of society,” Mr. Biden is seen saying on the Senate floor. “The end result is they are about to knock my mother on the head, shoot my sister, beat up my wife, take on my sons.” At the end, a voice says: “We know who Joe Biden is talking about: Us. Don’t let him become president.”
It is not true that Mr. Biden didn’t condemn the violence that accompanied street protests this spring and summer. “Burning down communities is not protest, it’s needless violence,” Mr. Biden said in August after Jacob Blake was shot by police in Kenosha, Wis., while also condemning racism.
But it is true that Mr. Biden, in the 1990s, described perpetrators using language that racial justice advocates find offensive today.
Where It’s Running
These ads appeared on television in Michigan.
Mr. Trump has rarely allowed himself to be governed by ideological consistency. Arguing simultaneously that Mr. Biden is responsible for arresting too many Black people and that he sides too much with Black protesters puts the president on attack in opposing directions. It makes sense in that his path to victory lies in both depressing Black turnout for Mr. Biden and in juicing turnout among his white working-class base, who tend to support law enforcement.
Mr. Trump has indeed made some inroads among Black and Hispanic voters, but polls show he has lost significant ground among his white voters since 2016. To win, he needs to maintain his gains among nonwhite voters and come close to repeating his commanding margins from his political base.