Scott Walker has told the world that the shooting deaths of police in the United States are a major problem and implied there is really only one cure: to return to the bygone era of his youth, when life was safer and more idyllic. His language was vague, incorrect, and most importantly stokes a fear in some white voters that they are losing control of their county.
“This isn’t the America I grew up in or that I want my children to grow up in,” wrote Walker, the Republican Wisconsin governor running for president, in an op-ed published by the conservative political blog Hot Air. “When the very people responsible for keeping us safe are targeted because they are law enforcement officials, we have a serious problem.”
Walker pinned blame on President Obama. “In the last six years under President Obama, we’ve seen a rise in anti-police rhetoric,” he said. “Instead of hope and change, we’ve seen racial tensions worsen and a tendency to use law enforcement as a scapegoat.”
Rhetoric like this is how Walker and other Republican contenders see a path to the presidency. There is a general consensus among GOP candidates that the Black Lives Matter movement is misguided. The party’s casual dismissal of the movement, along with throwback slogans like Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again,” are subliminal messages to voters that America is moving is in the wrong direction—to a browner and more immigrant-friendly country.
TPM’s Josh Marshall explains:
“Much of what has driven the GOP in the Obama era has been anxiety and resentment about losing out to rising forces in the American political-economy and culture - the decreasing white share of the national electorate (embodied by but also partly connected to Barack Obama's election), changing social and cultural mores (support for LGBT rights) driven by Americans under the age of 35, a renascent and assertive women's movement and the increasing defensiveness or even paranoia of organized wealth.
So when the GOP defends law enforcement departments that have notoriously fraught relationships with communities of color, it is a surefire way of alienating those black and brown people—and drawing in Americans who resent them.
"Cops across this country are feeling the assault,” Ted Cruz, a Texas senator who’s also running for president, told reporters in New Hampshire on Monday. “They're feeling the assault from the president, from the top on down. Whether it's in Ferguson or Baltimore, the response of senior officials of the President, of the Attorney General, is to vilify law enforcement. That is fundamentally wrong, and it is endangering the safety and security of us all."
A number of prominent GOP politicians have joined the criticism of the tactics and rhetoric of the Black Lives Matter movement. “The ‘BlackLivesMatter’ movement is focused on the wrong targets,” wrote presidential hopeful Ben Carson in USA Today last month. (Carson is currently tied with Trump for first place in Iowa, according to a recent poll). Rand Paul, who holds many of the same views as Black Lives Matter protesters on the issue of criminal justice reform, still insisted last week that protesters change their slogan from “Black Lives Matter” to “All Lives Matter” or “Innocent Lives Matter.” On Wednesday, Gov. Nikki Haley, the governor of South Carolina, told the National Press Club that BLM activists “yell and scream” too much.
Fusion reached out to the Republican National Committee but did not hear back by time of publication.
It appears that none of the Republican frontrunners have sympathized with the Black Lives Matter movement in the way Bernie Sanders, Martin O’Malley, Hillary Clinton, and the Democratic National Convention have done. Instead, the Republican candidates hold a hostile view of the Black Lives Matter movement and are painstakingly defensive of law enforcement.
And they are misleading voters.
Scott Walker is 47 years old. He was born in 1967 and was six years old in 1973, the year that 84 officers were shot and killed in the first six months, the worst half year of fatal police killings in the last 50 years, according to The Associated Press. That same six-month average fell to 29 shooting deaths through the early 2000s.
Police killings are down at least 13 percent since last year, according to the AP, which compared the first six months of this year to the same time period in 2014 and found that there were 30 shootings last year and 26 this year. The AP says those figures include state and local law enforcement, federal agents, and accidental shootings.
As The New York Times editorial board pointed out on Thursday, the GOP is being deceptive about its intentions. “[P]oliticians who know better and seek to strip this issue of its racial content and context are acting in bad faith. They are trying to cover up an unpleasant truth and asking the country to collude with them.”
The GOP’s rhetoric is meant to scare Americans into submission. “Make our country safe again,” and “make our country great again” means that it’s not safe or great now. The implicit meaning: black people fighting in the streets to make their lives safe inherently makes our lives unsafe. Undocumented immigrants fighting for security in citizenship inherently makes our jobs insecure. Rhetoric is powerful and it’s not accidental. And the audacity of the GOP’s rhetoric is ramping up, not slowing down.
In this game of rhetorical chicken, let’s see which Republican will go the furthest and how much they will alienate voters they need to win in a general election.
Collier Meyerson is a reporter at Fusion with a focus on race and politics. She lives in Brooklyn.