BALTIMORE — Vice President Pence on Wednesday condemned violent protests in American cities, including Kenosha, Wis., standing firmly with law enforcement even as the latest police shooting of a Black man has set off another round of intense demonstrations.
"Let me be clear: the violence must stop — whether in Minneapolis, Portland, or Kenosha. Too many heroes have died defending our freedoms to see Americans strike each other down," Pence said to applause.
The vice president expressed support for the right to peacefully protest, but concluded, "We will have law and order on the streets of America for every American of every race, and creed and color."
Pence formally accepted the Republican nomination for vice president here with a speech that flattered President TrumpDonald TrumpJan. 6 committee chair says panel will issue a 'good number' of additional subpoenas Overnight Defense & National Security — Presented by AM General — Pentagon officials prepare for grilling Biden nominates head of Africa CDC to lead global AIDS response MORE and framed November’s election as a pivotal moment for the direction of the country.
But a central component of the speech was unequivocal support for law enforcement, which fell in line with the evening’s theme of “Land of Heroes.”
Pence’s address came at a precarious time, however, as the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wis., sparked off intense protests and nationwide calls for change after a summer in which police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Rayshard Brooks, among others, have roiled the nation.
Pence delivered his speech against the backdrop of Fort McHenry. The American defense of the fort during the War of 1812 provided the inspiration for “The Star-Spangled Banner.” The symbolism was obvious given the theme of the night, and Pence’s remarks were heavy on praise for military service members and law enforcement.
"Under President Trump, we will stand with those who stand on the 'thin blue line,' and we're not going to defund the police — not now, not ever," Pence said.
The Trump campaign has made its support of law enforcement a central component of the reelection effort, hoping that suburban voters will be so bothered or frightened by ongoing protests over racial injustice that have at times grown violent that they will back the president as the self-described "candidate of law and order."
"The American people know we don’t have to choose between supporting law enforcement, and standing with African American neighbors to improve the quality of life in our cities and towns," Pence said. "From the first days of this administration, we have done both. And we will keep doing both for four more years in the White House."
Pence has attended multiple “Cops for Trump” rallies in recent months to tout the president’s support among law enforcement, but Wednesday’s message came as tensions boiled over in Wisconsin.
Blake on Sunday was shot seven times in the back by a Kenosha police officer and is paralyzed from the waist down, according to family members. Protests have raged in the days since, with some devolving into arson and rioting. A 17-year-old was arrested earlier in the day, accused of killing two people during a protest late Tuesday.
The outrage reached a tipping point on Wednesday afternoon as NBA teams sat out playoff games and WNBA and MLB teams called off regular season matchups in protest of the Blake shooting.
While he was the lone speaker to mention Kenosha specifically, Pence was not the only one to laud law enforcement. Some speeches were pre-recorded, making it difficult to change course. But the messaging appeared to resonate with Trump supporters who were at Fort McHenry.
South Dakota Gov. Kristi NoemKristi Lynn NoemNoem draws scrutiny for meeting with official as daughter sought state license Republicans criticizing Afghan refugees face risks Dozens of Republican governors call for meeting with Biden on border surge MORE (R) kicked off the evening by claiming that Democratic-led cities that have seen large and at times unruly protests over racial injustice “are being overrun by violent mobs.”
Sen. Marsha BlackburnMarsha BlackburnBig Tech should pay for damaging mental health Facebook to testify in Senate after report finds Instagram harms mental health House Oversight Democrat presses Facebook for 'failure' to protect users MORE (R-Tenn.) warned that “leftists” want to “cancel” police and military members and turn them “into villains,” drawing applause from guests attending Pence’s speech.
The Trump campaign has hammered the idea that Democratic presidential nominee Joe BidenJoe BidenFord to bolster electric vehicle production in multi-billion dollar push Protesters demonstrate outside Manchin's houseboat over opposition to reconciliation package Alabama eyes using pandemic relief funds on prison system MORE would be easily overtaken by the more radical wing of his party, and that his policies would jeopardize Americans’ safety. But it is a complicated message to sell to voters based on Trump’s record and Biden’s own statements.
The chaos that the president and Pence have warned Biden would bring is already happening during the Trump administration, and the president has fanned the flames of racial unrest this summer. He tweeted “when the looting starts the shooting starts” and scoffed at a question about why Black people are more likely to be killed by police than white people.
Biden has also said he does not support the movement to “defund the police,” and the former vice president has condemned the rioting and looting that has overshadowed more peaceful demonstrations in response to the police killings of Black Americans.
Pence hit Biden for arguing there is “absolutely” systemic racism in law enforcement, and he accused the former vice president of supporting funding cuts for police. Biden has said he backs redirecting money from law enforcement to social programs, but has rejected calls to “defund the police.”
Still, Pence portrayed a Biden presidency in dire terms, warning Americans “won’t be safe in Joe Biden’s America.”
Pence, who served six terms in the House and one as governor of Indiana, is a far more disciplined and seasoned political messenger than Trump. That was on display on Wednesday, as Pence methodically attacked Biden and defended the administration’s response to the coronavirus pandemic with specificity and sympathy that Trump often lacks.
The vice president is the head of the White House coronavirus task force, and spoke at length about the state of the pandemic. He spoke in rosy terms, urging children to return to school and vowing a vaccine would be ready by the end of the year, describing America as a "nation of miracles."
Fort McHenry provided a patriotic backdrop for Pence's address, and the inside was decked out with two large screens, more than 20 American flags near the stage, while a replica of the flag that flew in 1812 waved over the venue.
Much of his remarks were similar to his typical stump speech out on the campaign trail. But Wednesday night provided a prime-time slot for the Trump loyalist and prospective 2024 candidate, and the elaborate setting attempted to provide the spectacle Trump desired before he called off a large in-person convention due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Roughly 100 guests were in attendance, seated closely together. Few wore masks, though much of the campaign and vice presidential staff had face coverings. Multiple attendees told reporters that they received temperature checks, but were not given COVID-19 tests.
Trump made a surprise appearance at the end of Pence's speech, joining the vice president on stage and stepping off to greet guests and pose for photos. Trump and Pence, joined by the first lady and second lady, then departed the fort together. The president did not make any remarks, but is scheduled to deliver his acceptance speech on Thursday night.