Republicans are ready to use the nationwide rise in violent crime against Democrats in the midterm elections.
Yes, the murder rate is up.
Most of those murders involved guns and took place in southern states with lax gun control laws enacted by Republican governors and legislatures.
So, how can Democrats be attacked as the party responsible for the rise in crime?
The twisted politics of crime in 2022 are less about tragic murders than former President Trump’s continued success in exploiting America’s racial politics.
His constant talk about the rise in violent crime is a way to connect crime and racial minorities — without taking responsibility for playing racial politics. And it is a strategic way for congressional Republicans to go after Democrats as the party in charge of big cities.
After George Floyd’s murder under the knee of a policeman in May 2020, the GOP saw public opinion shift in favor of police reform and the Black Lives Matter movement.
That was not helpful to Trump in 2020. It will not be helpful to Trump-endorsed Republicans going into the 2022 midterms.
Fear of crime has been historically to the advantage of Republicans. But crime rates have fallen dramatically since the 1990s.
In the 2016 and 2020 presidential races, candidate Trump elevated fear of crime — especially crime perpetrated by immigrants and minorities — to alarm suburban white voters in key swing states such as Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.
“I mean, honestly, places like Afghanistan are safer than some of our inner cities,” he said during the 2016 campaign.
Sometimes he embellished the ties between urban areas and crime by tossing in other negative outcomes. “You take a look at the inner cities, you get no education, you get no jobs, you get shot walking down the street,” he said at a September 2016 rally in North Carolina.
For Trump, the persistent focus on violent crime remains a powerful element of his brand of identity politics.
He uses it to remind his mostly white voters of the divide between Black and white, between urban and rural, between Republican and Democrat.
Last year, after the FBI released statistics showing a sharp rise in murder in 2020, Gallup polling found 51 percent of Americans believed there was “more crime” in their neighborhood and 74 percent thought crime was up nationwide from a year before. Those percentages were among the highest recorded by Gallup pertaining to fear of crime over the last 25 years.
The exaggerated fear is largely a Trump-led, Republican phenomenon.
“This year’s increase in Americans’ belief that there is more crime in their area than a year ago is mostly explained by a surge among Republicans, rising 29 points from 38 percent in 2020 to 67 percent today,” wrote Lydia Saad of Gallup.
She found concern over rising crime also went up among independent voters but at a level far below that of Republicans — just nine percentage points. There was a negligible rise in fear of local crime among Democrats.
Along similar lines, the view that local crime is climbing “rose more sharply in towns/rural areas (up 20 points) and in suburbs (up 17) than in big or small cities (up five),” according to Gallup.
In sum, the polling shows elevated fear of crime is an issue for white, rural Republicans. That is Trump’s audience.
At a rally in Ohio last year, he said since he’d left office “crime is surging. Murders are soaring, police departments are being gutted, illegal aliens are overrunning their borders. Nobody’s ever seen anything like it.”
That is not true, at least when it comes to murder. The murder rate was far higher in the early 1990s.
Trump’s exploitation of crime as an issue is along the same lines as his false claims of fraud after he lost the 2020 election. In that case, Trump once again played racial politics by focusing his fraud claims on big cities with large numbers of minority voters.
Despite the lack of evidence of voter fraud in big cities, where he lost overwhelmingly, he continues to malign the cities, seeming to suggest that vote counts from minority precincts are not to be trusted.
The “Big Lie” is powerful. Lot of Republicans still say Trump won in 2020.
But his false claims about crime also fill the need to excite gun owners who are fearful of new gun control laws.
The political power of the National Rifle Association is diminished, the group left limping and broken by scandal and lawsuits. Remington, the gun manufacturer, settled a major suit last week with the families of the victims of the 2012 Newtown school shooting.
In Congress, Republicans continue to block gun control legislation despite strong support for halting brisk sales of illegal guns, background checks, tracking gun sales, and bans on assault-style weapons.
Senate Republicans similarly refuse to negotiate police reform.
Congress’ failures to deal with the proliferation of illegal guns and to improve the quality of police work are a real crime.
They are flashing signs of political paralysis, the ongoing damage done by America’s big fumble in the 2016 election.
Juan Williams is an author, and a political analyst for Fox News Channel.