GOP, Democrats grapple with post-Chauvin trial world
Republicans and Democrats are grappling with how to move forward on issues of race and policing after the Derek Chauvin trial, a watershed national moment that will almost certainly play a role in the 2022 midterms.
Democrats are seizing on the moment to push for police reform, but are wary over the backlash in 2020 to “defund the police,” which some see as costing the party House seats in last year’s elections.
Republicans are also looking at police reforms, but do not want to go nearly as far as Democrats. Some are also seizing on to the idea that law enforcement is coming under siege from the social justice movement, as warnings of “cancel culture” and mobs influencing courts get sounding boards from conservative pundits and some politicians.
“The challenge that Democrats face going forward is how do we sing for the same hymnal about how we move forward,” said Democratic strategist Antjuan Seawright. “I think Republicans are really challenged with some of the rhetoric and language that Donald Trump, the former president, has used. [It’s] been a motivating factor for parts of their base, and they don’t know how to operate now without that being the norm.”
Trump and the GOP hammered Democrats over the issue of defunding the police and protests last cycle, painting the party’s candidates as anti-law enforcement in 2020. The strategy appeared to work in more than half a dozen districts where Republican candidates ousted Democratic incumbents.
Many Republicans praised the verdict in Chauvin’s trial, but there were also warnings that social pressure might influence future juries judging the police.
“I don’t know what happened with this verdict, but if that’s something that can potentially happen, where you basically have justice made meted out because the jury is scared of what a mob may do?” Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) told Fox News’s Laura Ingraham on Tuesday.
The governor was responding to a clip of an unnamed person in New York saying, “If you continue to allow us to be murdered in the streets without justice, we will raise hell in America.”
“With this Chauvin trial, everyone was already decided on whether or not he was guilty and what they would do if he got off and didn’t get the full maximum penalty,” said Terry Schilling, the executive director of the conservative group American Principles Project.
“There was a mob aspect to this and everyone’s afraid of it,” he added.
The GOP has signaled it sees political opportunity in such arguments.
Republicans this week pounced on comments from Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), in which she said that if Chauvin was not found guilty, protesters will have “to get more confrontational.”
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) sought to censure Waters over the remarks. The resolution was blocked by Democrats, but Republicans are signaling they want to tie other Democrats to Waters and her remarks.
“That won’t fly with swing district voters, especially if Republican candidates denounce all violent protests,” veteran GOP strategist Karl Rove wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed this week.
Republicans also say that images of protests and riots will be used to galvanize their own base of voters, but add they are unsure of how it will play without Trump at the top of the ticket.
“The Republican Party lost a lot of suburban women, for example when Trump was president,” Schilling said. “Now that Donald Trump isn’t on the ballot to distract voters, will suburban women see these ads about rioting and defunding the police?”
Republicans point to their party’s record on passing criminal justice reform, along with Sen. Tim Scott (S.C.), the only Black Republican in the Senate, leading the GOP’s charge on police reform.
“We know that the law can go too far and not be merciful enough,” Schilling said.
Democrats are pushing the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which seeks to reform all levels of law enforcement. The measure has little chance of winning 10 GOP votes needed to pass the upper chamber. Scott is currently in discussions with Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.) on potential compromise legislation. But Democrats say they are still skeptical of GOP solutions on a number of issues involving racial justice and police accountability.
“They do not walk their talk,” Seawright said. “They talk about [how] they want equality and equity, but yet when you look at some of their legislative agendas, and their legislative proposals, and some of the things they advocate for and some of the things they advocate against, the bark does not back up the bite.”
Going into the midterms, Democrats say the nation’s changing demographics are playing in their favor, along with changing perceptions of protests, law enforcement and race.
“The challenge for Republicans, on the other hand, is the fact that the country is getting browner, and as older generations transition out and newer generations are coming in, the mindset and the thinking does not reflect those of their parents and grandparents on these consequential issues like race,” Seawright said.
While the Chauvin trial is over, there appears to be no end in sight for the issue of police violence against Black Americans.
Ohio authorities are in the process of investigating the fatal police shooting of 16-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant by a Columbus, Ohio, officer. Police body camera footage shows Bryant charging another woman with a knife before she was shot.
Some Republicans say critics of the police were too quick to jump to conclusions in the shooting, which took place 30 minutes before the verdict was read in the Chauvin trial.
“We move on to the next incident and immediately it becomes politicized. Now, here we don’t know all of the facts, we don’t know where this is going, but it appears they jumped the shark. It appears they want to use every event to further an agenda,” Republican strategist Ford O’Connell said.
The political machinations take place as more and more people die in incidents with police.
Daunte Wright, a 20-year-old Black man who was shot and killed by a police officer at a traffic stop in Minnesota earlier this month, was eulogized at a funeral on Thursday. In North Carolina, protesters are demanding answers in the police shooting of Andrew Brown Jr., an unarmed Black man who was shot Wednesday.
Democrats say that the seemingly never-ending list of police shootings of African Americans is emblematic of a larger problem with law enforcement, which many say is rooted in racial bias.
“All I think Democrats want for communities that look like mine are oceans of justice and rivers of fairness,” Seawright said.