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Trump Campaign Aims Debate Over Police Funding At Suburban Voters

Jul 21, 2020
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

President Trump is trying to reposition himself in the presidential race. The Trump campaign is attempting to use this debate over police funding to target a particular demographic. Here's NPR's Tamara Keith.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: President Trump has a message for suburban voters, and it's not a subtle one.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: They want to destroy our suburbs.

KEITH: That was Trump speaking to a recent dial-in rally. And here he was last week on the South Lawn of the White House.

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TRUMP: People have worked all their lives to get into a community, and now they're going to watch it go to hell. Not going to happen - not while I'm here.

KEITH: Trump has added this to his repertoire in the last week after about a month and a half of hammering former Vice President Joe Biden by falsely claiming he wants to defund the police. The Trump campaign has spent more than $18 million this month alone on TV spots hitting that theme. That figure comes from the tracking firm ad analytics. In the newest ad, an older white woman sees an intruder and dials 911.

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UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) Hello. You've reached 911. I'm sorry that there is no one here to answer your emergency call.

KEITH: In this very dramatic dramatization, as the woman is attacked by the intruder, the words, you won't be safe in Joe Biden's America flash on the screen. Biden has specifically said he doesn't want to defund the police. His campaign says these are smears that aren't working. Christine Matthews is a Republican pollster who has been critical of President Trump.

CHRISTINE MATTHEWS: People are not afraid of what he's trying to make them afraid of.

KEITH: Matthews says Trump has an anachronistic view of the suburbs.

MATTHEWS: He thinks it's basically the planned development of Levittown in the 1960s, as opposed to today's suburbs, which are multiracial, diverse and highly educated.

KEITH: Many suburban voters do think liberal activists have overstepped, says Ryan Costello, a former Republican congressman from the Pennsylvania suburbs. But he says they don't attribute that to Joe Biden. And they don't think he's going to defund their local police departments. He says right now, people in the suburbs are worried about schools opening safely. They're worried about the coronavirus and the economy.

RYAN COSTELLO: If you're going to attack an opponent, there has to be something that is relatable in that attack on an opponent. And I live in the suburbs. And I don't know how he would eliminate the suburbs. I don't - it doesn't make much sense to me.

KEITH: Trump won the suburbs narrowly in 2016. But now with Biden leading in them substantially, a Trump campaign spokeswoman downplayed the importance of the suburbs to Trump's reelection, saying Trump brought new voters to the Republican Party last time and realigned the electorate. Among them were a surge of rural white voters who don't live in the suburbs but may respond to this message.

ERNEST MCGOWEN: What does suburban really mean?

KEITH: Ernest McGowen is an associate professor of political science at the University of Richmond.

MCGOWEN: What does it mean as a thing? Is it a geography, or is it an identity?

KEITH: McGowen, who has studied African Americans in the suburbs and lives in the suburbs himself, says that suburban identity is about accomplishment but not excess. You know your kids will go to good schools with extracurricular activities. And, McGowen points out, the suburbs have expanded into what used to be rural areas.

MCGOWEN: What we're calling a suburb now is going to be part of the metro in a few years. And what we're calling exurbs is going to actually be the suburbs as we would know them.

KEITH: And in 2016, 50% of voters lived in the suburbs.

Tamara Keith, NPR News.

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