De Pere, Wis.
Alexis Arnold says she’s sympathetic toward protesters who have peacefully fought racial injustice this summer. But as some demonstrations spiral into violence, her anxiety is building.
“Why are we so broken right now?” the art gallery owner wondered.
The uncertainty is drawing her to whatever stability President Donald Trump can offer. He has spent weeks pushing questions of safety and security to the forefront of the presidential campaign. And there are signs some Wisconsin voters are listening, after protests have sometimes become violent in Kenosha, Wisconsin, where a white police officer shot a Black man, Jacob Blake, seven times, paralyzing him.
“The public just needs something to make them feel comfortable and safe again,” said Ms. Arnold, who is white, and has voted for Democrats in the past and is raising a biracial daughter. “I almost [would] rather see Trump stay and try to resolve it rather than bring somebody in new.”
That sentiment could prove decisive in Wisconsin, a state that put Mr. Trump in the White House in 2016 after he carried it by less than 1 percentage point. The president has already used dark and misleading warnings of destruction in American streets following violence in Portland, Oregon, and is now seizing on unrest in Kenosha, where he’ll travel on Tuesday.
His Democratic rival, Joe Biden, has condemned violence and focused more on the victims of police brutality.
But the images of unrest in Kenosha – of protesters clashing with police, shattered windows, and a teenager carrying an AR-15 style gun in the streets – are intensifying the partisan divide in Wisconsin. In interviews with dozens of voters in Green Bay and its suburbs, Democrats saw racism and fear-mongering in Mr. Trump’s messages, part of a ploy to change the subject from the pandemic.
Republicans, even those who admittedly cringed at Mr. Trump’s style on other issues, were unwaveringly supportive.
And some of the rare voters unsure of their choice said they felt drawn to Mr. Trump in this moment, a warning sign for Mr. Biden, who has tried to make the election a clear referendum on Mr. Trump, his leadership, and his handling of the coronavirus.
As part of that strategy, Mr. Biden has all but shunned in-person campaigning and generally kept a lower profile. That approach has left some voters who haven’t ruled out Mr. Trump hazy on where Mr. Biden stands on race and criminal justice, a vacuum quickly filled with misinformation.
“It was out there that he would get rid of the police,” said Mike Guerts, referring to an often repeated falsehood about Mr. Biden’s position.
Mr. Guerts, a wavering Trump voter, says a friend has inundated his phone with pro-Trump posts. The mail worker from Madison, who was in town visiting his father, said he knows not everything his friend sends is true but he doesn’t yet know enough to feel comfortable with Mr. Biden.
“I’ve been a lifelong Republican. I’m torn,” he said, noting police brutality is a pressing problem. “But that does not excuse the lawlessness.”
There is far less ambiguity among Trump stalwarts. Many were quick to identify all protesters and Democrats as “socialists.”
Some don’t agree there is systemic racism in the United States and argued that Black Americans often provoke police into using force. Kyle Rittenhouse, the white teenager who is charged with shooting three people, killing two, in Kenosha, was rarely mentioned.
Instead, they saw Democrats and their celebrity allies as stoking the unrest.
“They haven’t done anything to stop it,” said Rick Demro, a retired commander with Green Bay police department. “You don’t see them back up law enforcement. They’re quick to cast judgment before they facts come out. I think all that does is promote the rioting instead of trying to quell it. Part of me says, it’s to help them for the campaign purposes.”
Mr. Demro said he’s particularly angered by professional athletes and organizations speaking out against police brutality – including his beloved Green Bay Packers. He hasn’t missed a home game since the early 1980s, and he waited for 30 years to get his season tickets. But this week, he talked to his wife about giving them up in protest. She refused, he said, because she wants to pass them down to their children.