Jun 2, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Trump goes full law-and-order

Trump talking in front of St. John's Church after riot cops cleared a path with tear gas.
Photo: Tom Brenner/Reuters

President Trump's final decision to speak in the Rose Garden last evening as protests raged outside the gate was made only hours before, reflecting chaos on both sides of the fence.

Why it matters: Trump’s ultimate remarks fell where his instincts always were: blunt, brutal law and order, with extreme demonstrations of militarized “strength” and blustery threats.

  • "I am your president of law and order," he declared. "Where there is no justice, there is no liberty."

For the previous 48 hours, aides and outside political advisers hotly debated whether Trump should address the nation.

  • Some top officials argued against the idea — telling Trump that his speech would change nothing, that the protests would continue regardless of what he said.
  • But others were getting desperate. A number of people reached out directly to the president or his top aides to tell them, with great urgency, that he needed to be seen. They saw signs on Twitter that the conservative base was turning against him, with the question: “Where is Trump?”

A senior White House official said Trump was especially infuriated watching footage of shopkeepers defending their stores against violent looters.

  • "He felt like they’ve been in lockdown [for COVID] and now the minute they’re allowed to open they have to close again because of this," the official said. "Not gonna let it happen."

The senior ranks of the Pentagon had been in flux:

  • Trump wanted to federalize forces across the nation — a decision that has been held off for the moment. But he also wanted a massive display of force in Washington.
  • Two senior administration officials said planners had doubts about whether there were enough National Guard members to handle the increasingly violent protests in D.C. So discussions turned to boosting that with possible additions of neighboring state National Guard.

Not everyone in the White House was thrilled with the church photo op.

  • One senior aide was exuberantly telling friends the photograph of him holding a Bible in front of the church that had been attacked by vandals was an “iconic” moment for the president.
  • But a senior White House official told Axios that when they saw the tear gas clearing the crowd for Trump to walk to the church with his entourage: "I’ve never been more ashamed. I’m really honestly disgusted. I’m sick to my stomach. And they’re all celebrating it. They’re very very proud of themselves."
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