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In cities hit by unrest, Trump's GOP sees bad people only on one side

Vice President Mike Pence delivers Republican National Convention's

Vice President Mike Pence delivers Republican National Convention's keynote speech Wednesday night at Fort McHenry National Monument in Baltimore. Credit: AFP via Getty Images / Saul Loeb

'Law and order is on the ballot'

For his Republican National Convention speech on Wednesday night, Vice President Mike Pence honored the memory of a federal law enforcement officer killed during racial injustice protests in Oakland, California. The widow of Dave Patrick Underwood was in the audience.

What Pence didn't mention was that the man charged in federal officer's killing was linked to the far-right "Boogaloo" extremists and, according to federal authorities, saw the George Floyd protests as an opportunity to further their goal of inciting a second U.S. civil war.

In a late addition to the speech, Pence spotlighted the violence that has gripped Kenosha, Wisconsin, since police shot a Black man, Jacob Blake, seven times in the back. "Last week, Joe Biden didn’t say one word about the violence and chaos engulfing cities across this country. So let me be clear: The violence must stop — whether in Minneapolis, Portland or Kenosha," Pence said.

Left unmentioned was Blake or any reference to the worst of the Kenosha violence, which left two people dead on Tuesday night when a gunman fired on protesters demonstrating against Blake's shooting. Social media postings showed 17-year-old suspect Kyle Rittenhouse, besides idolizing police, is a Donald Trump fan who was in the front row of the president's January rally in Des Moines, Iowa. Rittenhouse was arrested Wednesday.

White House counselor Kellyanne Conway told reporters Wednesday night: “We’re not responsible for the private conduct of people at our rallies any more than … all the crazy people who have been involved with the Obama/Biden campaigns or other things.”

Put another way, Pence, Trump and the speakers at his convention don't want inconvenient complications to their narrative blaming violence on Biden and Democrats as tools of the "radical left." Said Pence: "Law and order is on the ballot" and "the hard truth is: You won't be safe in Joe Biden's America."

For now, it's still Trump's America, amid questions whether his administration has its eyes open to bad actors besides antifa and troublemakers on the left. A former Homeland Security assistant secretary under Trump, Elizabeth Neumann, told Politico in an interview posted Wednesday that agency officials repeatedly tried to get Trump's attention on threats of far-right terrorism, but he ignored them.

Trump as hero of the pandemic

Another task Pence took up in his speech was what recent polling shows is an increasingly tougher sell: to laud Trump's management of the coronavirus crisis. He, like Trump, seeks public buy-in for a very iffy proposition — a vaccine before 2020 is over.

“Last week, Joe Biden said that no miracle is coming,” Pence told the live audience of about 100 at historic Fort McHenry in Baltimore. “Well, what Joe doesn’t seem to understand is that America is a nation of miracles. And I’m proud to report that we’re on track to have the world’s first safe, effective coronavirus vaccine by the end of this year.”

More broadly, the vice president cast support for the Trump-Pence ticket as a vote for optimism. “Where Joe Biden sees American darkness,” Pence said, “we see American greatness."

Trump and first lady Melania Trump joined Pence onstage at the end of the speech, basking in chants from the small crowd of "Four more years!"

Here's the full text of Pence's address. You can also see it on video.

Zeldin's turn

Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) used his prime-time turn to tout both Trump's response to the pandemic and his own role in securing aid from White House aide and Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner to ease a shortage of N95 masks in Suffolk County.

“During a once-in-a-century pandemic — an unforeseeable crisis sent to us from a faraway land — the president’s effort for New York was phenomenal,” Zeldin said. He has emerged as one of Trump’s fiercest defenders and his most loyal New York ally. For more, see Newsday's story by Yancey Roy.

A dream boss for women

On each of the first three nights, the speakers' list reflected an effort to repair Trump's poor standing with women voters and racist-friendly reputation.

Wednesday featured a parade of women who work for Trump. Conway, who is leaving the White House in a few days, said her boss "has elevated women to senior positions in business and in government" and broke a barrier by making her his final campaign manager in 2016. Press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said a call from Trump gave her an emotional lift two years ago when she was recovering from a preventive double mastectomy.

Daughter-in-law Lara Trump — she's married to Eric — marveled at being given a senior adviser role with the Trump campaign. “Though I had no political experience, he believed in me," she said.

Trump, of course, has been criticized for nepotism. Both Lara and Donald Trump Jr.'s girlfriend Kimberly Guilfoyle reportedly are paid $15,000 a month by the campaign, while Trump's daughter Ivanka and her husband Kushner have senior roles at the White House.

Another speaker, Clarence Henderson, a civil rights veteran from sit-ins at segregated lunch counters in the 1960s, praised the president's achievements that "demonstrate that Donald Trump truly cares about Black lives.” 

Trump just didn't care for New York Mayor Bill de Blasio getting "Black Lives Matter" painted on the street in front of Manhattan's Trump Tower.

Rigging the COVID numbers?

With no announcement, let alone a clear explanation, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention posted new testing guidelines from the White House coronavirus task force that stated it’s no longer necessary for asymptomatic people to get checked out after coming in close contact with infected people.

Across the country, public health experts called the change bizarre, The Associated Press reports. They noted that testing contacts of infected people is a core element of public health efforts to keep outbreaks in check, and that a large percentage of infected people — the CDC has said as many as 40% — exhibits no symptoms.

A contrary view, albeit a nonsensical one, has been repeatedly voiced by Trump. "If we did half the testing, we would have half the cases,” he said at a news conference last month. The level of testing was providing “fodder for the fake news to report cases,” the president said. The U.S. has had 5.8 million cases and almost 180,000 deaths, but Trump wants his handling of the pandemic to be seen as a success story.

CNN said it was told by a federal health official close to the decision process that "it's coming from the top down" — the upper ranks of the administration. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Wednesday that New York won't follow the new CDC testing guidance, denouncing it as "political propaganda," as Newsday staff reports in a story written by Bart Jones. Cuomo charged Trump "now has CDC carrying forward his political agenda, and it is frightening and it is alarming."

Dr. Brett Giroir, Health and Human Services assistant secretary for health, said the change was reached by consensus in a meeting of the coronavirus task force without input from Trump, Pence or HHS Secretary Alex Azar.

Janison: Inflating his economy assets

Trump's campaign crew has a special motive for habitually describing the COVID-19 pandemic in the past tense, writes Newsday's Dan Janison. Doing so buttresses Trump's story line that he personally revived a dead U.S. economy before China spread the viral menace — but now it is over, and that the "Trump economy" is bouncing back.

“It was awful,” Trump economic adviser Larry Kudlow said in a video shown at Tuesday night's installment. “Health and economic impacts were tragic. Hardship and heartbreak were everywhere. But presidential leadership came swiftly and effectively with an extraordinary rescue for health and safety to successfully fight the COVID virus.”

He also said Trump had inherited “a stagnant economy on the front end of recession,” which Kudlow said was "rebuilt in three years.” But most economic indicators that preceded the pandemic continued on positive trends that had begun under President Barack Obama, who inherited a recession when elected in 2008. What may help Trump, however, is that whatever happened before he arrived, many Americans surveyed in polls like what they see as his economic record.

Accepting the full Trump economic narrative also requires believing that Biden, if elected, would bring recovery to a halt. In his convention speech Tuesday, Eric Trump said that under Biden’s tax plan, “82% of Americans will see their taxes go up significantly.” In fact, Biden’s plan does not call for any direct tax increases for anyone making less than $400,000, as Roll Call pointed out.

Trump: Joe is on something

Trump says Biden's debate performances improved over the course of the Democratic primary debate season, and he can come up with only one explanation: a mystery drug.

Speculating wildly, without a milligram of evidence, in an interview with Byron York of the Washington Examiner, Trump said Wednesday, "We are going to call for a drug test" before the first schedule presidential debate on Sept. 29 "because there's no way — you can't do that."

According to Trump, after early performances were "so bad," Biden was different when he went one-on-one with Bernie Sanders. "It wasn't that he was Winston Churchill because he wasn't, but it was a normal, boring debate." That became a head-scratcher for Trump. "Somebody said to me, 'He must be on drugs.' I don't know if that's true or not, but I'm asking for a drug test. Both candidates. Me, too."

Trump also observed a debate is "no different from the gladiators, except we have to use our brain and our mouth."

There's no word what drug Trump thinks can be debate-enhancing. Biden's forceful Democratic convention acceptance speech muted the Trump campaign talking point that the former vice president is doddering.

Biden's balancing act

With Trump and his allies accusing Democrats of virtual complicity in protests over racial injustice that have turned violent, and Biden took another step Wednesday to put distance between his campaign and lawlessness.

"Protesting brutality is a right and absolutely necessary. But burning down communities is not protest, it’s needless violence,” Biden said in a video. “Violence that endangers lives. Violence that guts businesses and shutters businesses that serve the community. That’s wrong.”

Biden also said he had spoken to the family of Jacob Blake. “What I saw on that video makes me sick,” Biden said, referring to the shooting. “Put yourself in the shoes of every Black father and Black mother in this country and ask: Is this what we want America to be?"

There are worries among pro-Biden commentators on how moderate voters will react to the violence.

A frustrated employee at a Papa John's Pizza in Kenosha yelled out through shattered windows Tuesday night: "Are they trying to get Trump reelected? Seriously!"

Fraud claim returned to sender

The FBI strongly contradicted Trump's repeated claims that massive fraud instigated by a foreign power could result from the expanded use of mail-in ballots meant to help Americans who want to avoid in-person voting during the pandemic.

"We're fully aware that COVID-19 in the expectation of the increased mail-in ballots has created a new environment for this election cycle," a senior FBI official told reporters on a conference call. "However, we have not seen to date a coordinated national voter fraud effort during a major election."

The official added: "It would be extraordinarily difficult to change a federal election outcome through this type of fraud alone, given the range of processes that we need to be affected or compromised by an adversary, at the local level."

Trump has clung to the claim for months. "RIGGED 2020 ELECTION: MILLIONS OF MAIL-IN BALLOTS WILL BE PRINTED BY FOREIGN COUNTRIES, AND OTHERS. IT WILL BE THE SCANDAL OF OUR TIMES!" he tweeted in June. Trump has gone so far as to threaten U.S. Postal Service funding to try to thwart wider mail-in voting.

More coronavirus news

For a full list of Newsday's coronavirus stories, click here.

What else is happening:

  • New security fencing has gone up around the White House. NBC News reported that a White House official would not address security issues but said there’s “no concern the protests will step on the president’s message.” 
  • Hours before Trump's convention address, Democratic vice-presidential nominee Kamala Harris plans to deliver a speech from Washington on Thursday, condemning Trump's handling of the coronavirus pandemic. 
  • Republican convention TV viewership on Tuesday rose to 18 million across six networks, up from 15.8 million on Monday. It’s slightly less than the 18.6 million who watched the Democratic National Convention’s second night last week, Deadline reported.
  • Two of the immigrants naturalized in a ceremony at the White House that was shown during the convention told The Wall Street Journal that they didn't know in advance that it would be shown as part of Tuesday night's program. But they said they didn't mind.
  • Several U.S. troops were injured this week during a vehicle-bumping skirmish with Russian forces in northeastern Syria. The Pentagon declined to comment, referring all questions to the White House in a sign that the Defense Department did not want to focus attention on tensions with Moscow during the Republican convention, and possibly draw Trump’s ire, The New York Times reported.
  • Army Lt. Col. Yevgeny Vindman, the twin brother of an impeachment witness, now-retired Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, has filed a complaint with a Pentagon watchdog raising concerns that he was retaliated against for reporting that national security adviser Robert O'Brien and his chief of staff “committed several ethics and legal compliance violations” late last year and into 2020.

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