Republicans are seeking to tie Democrats to the country’s rising crime wave as part of their strategy for recapturing control of Congress in 2022, hopeful that such a message will prompt a backlash against the party over its embrace of police reform.
There’s no single cause for the spike in violent crime over the past year, and experts say there are several factors at play, including the coronavirus pandemic and the economic anxiety it’s caused.
But the GOP attacks have still drawn the attention of prominent Democrats, who say their party needs to be prepared to fight back, especially as they get ready to defend their razor-thin majorities in the House and Senate next year.
“[Former President TrumpDonald TrumpFacebook to end policy shielding politicians from content moderation rules: reports US government found no evidence that Navy UFO sightings were alien spacecraft: report More than a dozen police officers still on medical leave from Jan. 6 injuries MORE] and the Republicans don’t accept responsibility for the crime wave either,” James Carville, the veteran Democratic strategist, wrote in a recent op-ed for The Wall Street Journal. “Instead, they point fingers at everyone else. But they built it, and they own it.”
“The Republican Party is betting that the American people will suffer amnesia from the carnage of the Trump presidency,” he added. “It’s our job to keep the disastrous failures of the Trump presidency, including on crime, alive and well from now until Election Day 2022.”
Carville and other Democrats have been quick to note that the spike in violent crime in the nation’s largest cities happened mostly on Trump’s watch and while Republicans still controlled the Senate. A recent report from the Major Cities Chiefs Association found that homicide rates in large cities were up some 33 percent last year, before Biden entered the White House and Democrats won their current Senate majority.
But that hasn’t stopped Republicans from casting the rising crime rates as the result of Democrats’ embrace of police reform and calls by some on the left to “defund” local law enforcement or abolish traditional police departments altogether.
“Crime and delinquency have many causes. In some ways, the pandemic likely contributed. But it is impossible to ignore that these terrible trends are coming precisely as so-called progressives have decided it’s time to denounce and defund local law enforcement,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellTop manufacturing group presses Congress to protect ‘Dreamers’ George Conway: GOP blocking Jan. 6 commission ‘more appalling’ than both Trump acquittals The Hill’s Morning Report – Presented by Citizens’ Climate Lobby – Deal or no deal? Biden, Capito continue infrastructure talks MORE (R-Ky.) said last week.
“These boneheaded decisions are the direct result of an anti-law enforcement fad that has swept through the political left like a wildfire.”
It’s not yet clear how effective the crime issue alone will be. A GOP effort to make a special House election in New Mexico a referendum on surging crime in Albuquerque fell flat on Tuesday, when Democrat Melanie Stansbury won a landslide victory over Republican Mark Moores.
Moores centered his campaign on crime and Stansbury’s support for a bill that would shift funding away from police departments, using public appearances and TV ads to cast his opponent as anti-law enforcement and soft on crime.
But that message alone was not enough to win him the race. Stansbury scored a nearly 25-point victory over Moores, outperforming both President BidenJoe BidenWHO warns of continent-wide third wave of coronavirus infections in Africa 30 House Democrats urge Biden to do more for global vaccine distribution Manchin isn’t ready to support Democrats passing infrastructure on their own MORE’s margin of victory in the district and that of Interior Secretary Deb HaalandDeb HaalandWhite House requests .8 billion for parks, conservation projects The Hill’s 12:30 Report: Biden’s meeting with Queen Elizabeth II The Hill’s Morning Report – Presented by Citizens’ Climate Lobby – Deal or no deal? Biden, Capito continue infrastructure talks MORE, the district’s former representative.
To be sure, Stansbury was always favored to win the special election, given the Democratic tilt of New Mexico’s 1st Congressional District. Democrats in Washington also poured money into the race, while the national GOP did little to support Moores.
One Republican operative dismissed the notion that the special election in New Mexico offers any broader takeaways on the GOP’s law-and-order message, predicting that the crime issue will resonate more in the swing districts that Republicans are banking on to deliver them the House majority next year.
“I don’t think you can draw any clear conclusions from this,” the operative said. “It’s going to come down to next year when the voters in actual swing districts are going to ask themselves: ‘Am I — is my family — safer now or not?’ And you look at the numbers, the answer is no.”
A Yahoo News-YouGov poll released late last week found that roughly half of Americans, 49 percent, see violent crime as a “very big problem” — more than those who say the same about COVID-19, race relations, political correctness or the economy.
While Moores’s focus on crime and law enforcement were unable to win him the special election, his attacks forced a response from Stansbury, suggesting that the issue may prove difficult to ignore, even in Democratic-leaning races.
In the final weeks of the race, her campaign aired a TV ad featuring a retired sheriff’s deputy boasting that Stansbury had helped secure public safety funding in Albuquerque during her tenure in the state legislature.
Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.), the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, has repeatedly dismissed the GOP’s depiction of Democrats as radicals intent on defunding police as blatantly false. He held up Stansbury’s victory in New Mexico on Tuesday as proof that voters had not been scared into voting for the GOP.
“New Mexico voters chose a leader with the grit and determination to deliver results and rejected the tired Republican tactics of lies and fear mongering,” Maloney said in a statement.
Still, Maloney himself has acknowledged the impact similar attacks have had on Democrats in the past. In an interview with The Washington Post last month, he said that Republicans’ efforts to label Democrats as “socialists” and anti-law enforcement “carried a punch.”
“We spent a bunch of time understanding how to respond more effectively, knowing that they’re going to do it again,” he told the Post. “So we take that very seriously and I really want to be clear. I am not saying that those false attacks about defunding the police or socialism did not carry a punch.”