Republicans leaned into President Donald Trump’s “law and order” message on the third night of their party convention Wednesday. But with no substantive mentions of the unrest in Kenosha, Wisconsin, the night felt very separated from the moment.
Before the Republican National Convention kicked off for the night, the country was in severe turmoil stemming from the Kenosha police shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man. An apparent white vigilante was arrested for murder hours before the convention began for allegedly shooting three protesters, two of whom died. The NBA and WNBA shut down for the evening as players demanded action to end police violence; several MLB and Major League Soccer games were canceled for the same reason.
During the only live address of the evening, Vice President Mike Pence briefly addressed protests that have taken place around the country. But he did not acknowledge the incident that sparked the most recent wave: a police officer shooting Blake in the back seven times.
“The violence must stop — whether in Minneapolis, Portland or Kenosha,” Pence said. “Too many heroes have died defending our freedoms to see Americans strike each other down.”
The rest of the night’s speeches, which were previously recorded, offered only general warnings about supposed mob violence and did not address the burgeoning crisis head-on.
“From Seattle and Portland to Washington and New York, Democrat-run cities across this country are being overrun by violent mobs. The violence is rampant. There’s looting, chaos, destruction and murder,” South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem said, echoing one of Trump’s central arguments.
Sen. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee started off her convention speech by saying America is a “land of heroes.” She then accused Democrats of trying to “cancel” heroes like police officers.
“Leftists try to turn them into villains. They try to ‘cancel’ them. But I’m here to tell you that these heroes can’t be canceled,” Blackburn said, tying policing to one of the right’s biggest complaints about Democrats and the media ― so-called “cancel culture.”
The “law and order”-themed night also featured Michael McHale, the president of the National Association of Police Organizations lobbying group, who praised law enforcement while dismissing problems in U.S. policing by claiming “nobody hates bad cops more than good cops.”
An overwhelming majority of the country supports changes to policing, but McHale put the blame on Democratic officials.
“Chaos results when elected officials in cities like Portland, Minneapolis, Chicago and New York make the conscious and very public decision not to support law enforcement,” he said, claiming he was “shocked and disgusted by how far left Joe Biden has swung and how anti-law enforcement he has become.”
McHale has previously praised Trump for directing Attorney General William Barr to “aggressively prosecute” people attacking police, and claimed his organization needed the president’s support to stop “unfair and inaccurate opprobrium” against officers.
In 2018, McHale also called for a boycott of all Nike products on behalf of the organization’s members after the company featured Colin Kaepernick in an ad campaign. At the time, he called Kaepernick ― an NFL quarterback who kneeled during the national anthem before games to protest police brutality and systemic racism — “a shallow dilettante seeking to gain notoriety by disrespecting the flag for which so many Americans have fought and died.”
During the convention, pundits on Fox News framed protests and violence as the result of Democratic officials being unwilling to enforce the “law and order” that only Trump could bring. Tucker Carlson appeared to dismiss the actions of Kyle Rittenhouse, the 17-year-old aspiring police officer who is charged with first-degree murder for his alleged involvement in the killing of two people at protests in Kenosha.
“How shocked are we that 17-year-olds with rifles decided they had to maintain order when no one else would?” Carlson asked.
Police were present during the protests where Rittenhouse allegedly shot multiple people, however. Footage from earlier in the night shows officers giving him water and thanking him for his presence. Police officers ignored Rittenhouse immediately after the shooting, even as protesters yelled that he was the gunman, a witness told Vice News.
Republicans on Wednesday sought to capitalize on the racial unrest in Wisconsin as well as other protests across the country, accusing Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden of not forcefully denouncing violence and of being beholden to the far-left elements of his party. GOP officials and the Trump campaign have turned to images of violent protests in U.S. cities in an attempt to fire up their base — and, more importantly, make suburban voters who may not personally like Trump hold their nose and vote for him anyway.
The former vice president also called for protests to remain peaceful.
“Violence that endangers lives, violence that guts businesses and shutters businesses that serve the community ― that’s wrong,” he said.