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Week In Politics: RNC, 2020 March On Washington And Shootings In Kenosha, Wis.


A new march on Washington, athletes go beyond taking the knee, two protesters killed in the streets of Kenosha, a million more Americans file for unemployment. This was the backdrop to the week-long Republican National Convention, where conservative leaders made the case for President Trump's reelection.


IVANKA TRUMP: Four years ago, I promised that President Trump would support mothers in the workforce. In his first year in office, he signed into law the first-ever national paid leave tax credit.

TIM SCOTT: President Trump's criminal justice reform law fixed many of the disparities Biden created and made our system more fair and just for all Americans.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: No one will be safe in Biden's America. My administration will always stand with the men and women of law enforcement.


CORNISH: And, of course, President Trump accepted his party's nomination on the White House lawn. To help us make sense of the politics of the moment, We have Jonathan Capehart, opinion writer for The Washington Post and host of the "Cape Up" podcast. Welcome back to the program.

JONATHAN CAPEHART: Thank you, Audie.

CORNISH: And David Brooks. Columnist for The New York Times? Welcome back. David.

DAVID BROOKS: It's great to be with you again, Audie.

CORNISH: Yeah, good to hear your voice as well. So first, let's just start with that depiction of the president. David, I want to start with you. Do you actually recognize the version of Trump depicted this week?

BROOKS: It was so weird. If you would just judge the convention, you would think this Republican administration had been all about racial reconciliation, its preexisting conditions. Rarely has a convention been so at odds with all the stories we've been covering for the last 3 1/2 years. What struck me about the Trump speech was that he had no cohesive argument to it, no cohesive strategy for the campaign, what issues he wants to highlight, no coherent single critique of Biden that he wants to get across, no coherent message. It was just a ramble. And I think it reflects a campaign that has yet to really devise an overall grand strategy for what they're doing.

CORNISH: Jonathan, was Biden the boogeyman here, though, or was it the party itself? We heard a lot of conversation about governors and cities.

CAPEHART: Yes, I think it was both. It was the party, and it was Joe Biden. You know, you would think - to add on to what David was saying - you would also think that President Trump were not the incumbent and not someone who had a record of his own. You would think that the incumbent was Joe Biden. The other thing I would add about the president's speech - David called it incoherent. I've seen other people call it a mishmash. And to me, it was more of the same. A lot of what the president had to say, we heard it when he spoke in Charlotte on Monday. We've heard it through every so-called coronavirus press briefing in the weeks leading up to that moment. And we've been hearing it really since his election. He's been running for...

CORNISH: But there's really been an underscoring of something in particular - right? - especially when it comes to law and order. Trump complained that Democrats would, quote, "give free rein to violent anarchists and agitators and criminals who threaten our citizens and destroy the American way of life."

CAPEHART: And that is the new - and that is the one new thing. It's becoming a little old now because we know - we see what he's doing. He is trying to scare the electorate. He is trying to particularly scare white voters who might be feeling uncomfortable voting for him again because of his bullying on Twitter or from the podium at a campaign rally or from the White House, and looking for a thread of an excuse to vote for him again. And the vandalism and violence that we have seen in cities - in some cities across the country, he is hoping - the president is hoping that fear of that coming to other people's neighborhoods and communities will spur them to run to him in November.

CORNISH: David, I want to ask you a question about this because, as Jonathan just mentioned, there are these protests that are the backdrop - right? - against racial injustice and police violence. And it actually escalated, obviously, in Kenosha, Wis., with the killing of these two protesters. I didn't hear very much about that during the RNC. How can, should the Republicans be talking about this?

BROOKS: I don't know. I would do it if I were them, but I do think this is their most effective issue. And I certainly have - among my Democratic friends, I'd say anxiety levels have gone from two to six over the last week of this...

CORNISH: Because they think it's an effective argument?

BROOKS: I just think people take it seriously. Law and order they take seriously. We have evidence of that. I think that Hubert Humphrey lost in '68 on this issue. So it really does sway voters. There was a Wall Street Journal poll months ago where 80% of Americans think the country is spinning out of control. Crime is up in a lot of cities, or at least murder rates are up. Sixty-two percent of Americans say they don't feel they can express their opinions honestly, including a lot of moderates and liberals. So there's just a great sense of precarity caused by the pandemic, caused by the economy and caused by all this. So I think fear is in the air, and it can be exploited or can be used productively. And, obviously, we know which side Trump is on.

CORNISH: Given the list of things you said at the end of both of these conventions, are we looking at a referendum on President Trump? Right? All these things have happened under his watch. Or are we looking at a decision between he and Biden? We just have two minutes left. I want to start with you, Jonathan.

CAPEHART: I think it is a decision. Yes, it is a referendum on the president. But I also think - and I wrote this in a column this week - that what - the choice the American people have to make - I do - I believe is between American democracy and the perpetuation of white supremacy. And the president's use of fear to try to goad white voters, in particular, into voting for him makes that choice that much more clear and that much more stark.

CORNISH: David, for you?

BROOKS: I agree. If you looked at Twitter, you'd think this is all about violence. But if you look at real life, it's about Donald Trump. And there's a sense that people want healing. And they know that he fuels this reciprocal cycle of violence. He fuels racial injustice. And we can't really have national healing, we can't have a decent society unless somehow the issue of racial equity is addressed fundamentally. And that's just not in Donald Trump's lane, quite the opposite.

CORNISH: That's David Brooks. Columnist for The New York Times. We also heard from Jonathan Capehart. Opinion writer for The Washington Post and host of the "Cape Up" podcast. Thank you to you both.

CAPEHART: Thank you, Audie.

BROOKS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.