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President Donald Trump paid a controversial visit to Kenosha, Wis. on Tuesday, just over a week after the police shooting of Black man Jacob Blake prompted protests and rioting in the city roughly 35 miles south of Milwaukee.
Local officials had feared the president’s trip could further strain tensions in the city. Ahead of Trump’s trip, Democratic Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers wrote to the White House pleading for the president to reconsider. “I am concerned your presence will only hinder our healing,” Evers wrote. “I am concerned your presence will only delay our work to overcome division and move forward together.”
Trump proceeded with the visit anyway, with a mix of his supporters and Black Lives Matter activists gathering in Downtown Kenosha to await his arrival. Helicopters circled above; armored vehicles were stationed around the city as Trump toured the “destruction” of city blocks he has attributed to the actions of Democratic leaders.
Despite pleas to stay away, the president said his visit to Kenosha would “increase enthusiasm” in Wisconsin—a key battleground state ahead of November’s presidential election. He may be right, according to recent data.
A poll conducted by the Marquette University Law School on Aug. 26, three days after the shooting—which left Blake paralyzed from the waist down—found that approval of Black Lives Matter protests in Wisconsin has dwindled in August compared to June, when video footage revealed the police killing of George Floyd.
In June, 61% of the state approved of the protests while 36% disapproved; in August just 48% approved, while 48% disapproved. In August, the poll asked for the first time if respondents viewed the protests as “mostly peaceful” or “mostly violent”—48% responded with mostly peaceful, while 41% categorized the protests as mostly violent.
The minimal divide between those figures plays into Trump’s stance as the “law and order” candidate, an approach that could appeal to Wisconsin voters. The Marquette poll found that respondents’ views of the police are extremely favorable, with an approval of 44% of Black or Hispanic respondents and 78% of white respondents in the June and August data combined.
Trump met with law enforcement officials in Kenosha, shoring up support for police officers a day after comparing them to golfers who “choke” and “miss a three-foot putt” when shooting people in the back. That flame was fanned by the president’s recent refusal to condemn Kyle Rittenhouse, the 17-year-old supporter armed with a military-style rifle who was charged with homicide for shooting two demonstrators.
The president still has much work to do if wants to close the gap between himself and challenger Vice President Joe Biden. According to a Morning Consult poll released Tuesday, Biden holds a nine point lead over Trump in Wisconsin, at 52% to 43%. The recent Democratic and Republican national conventions, as well as the unrest in Kenosha, did little to change Biden’s standing with white voters, the poll found. 44% of those without a college degree prefer Biden; 49% said they would vote for Trump. Meanwhile, Biden holds a sizable lead over Trump among college-educated whites at 59% compared to 38%.
Trump won Wisconsin by less than one point in 2016 and it will be perhaps the most hotly-contested battleground this time around. Trump’s refusal to cancel his visit to Kenosha suggests his campaign sees the state’s decreasing enthusiasm for the Black Lives Matter movement and high support of the police as on opportunity to reverse polling numbers—even if leads to more violence.
“He doesn’t want to shed light, he wants to generate heat, and he’s stoking violence in our cities,” said Biden of Trump on Monday. “He can’t stop the violence because for years he’s fomented it.”
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