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Changing tide on racial issues may strand Trump

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(Los Angeles Times)

Since the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25, a wave of anti-racism has shifted public views on a range of issues: Do police direct violence at Black Americans more often than at whites? Are protests against police misconduct justified? Should monuments to the Confederacy be removed?

That shift has come suddenly and sharply. It’s been driven mostly by a change in attitudes of white Americans, many of whom were shocked out of complacency by the video of Floyd being choked to death with an officer’s knee on his neck, a killing that Minnesota officials have charged as murder.

Activists now hope to harness that shift in public opinion to push through a host of changes, including moving money away from policing toward education, treatment for mental disorders and other services. In California, the state Assembly has passed a measure asking voters to reinstate affirmative action by repealing Proposition 209, the 1996 ban on race-conscious preferences. The state Senate has until June 25 to decide whether to follow suit and put the measure on the November ballot.

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The shift has also had a profound impact on the presidential race, steepening President Trump’s slide in opinion polls.

Over all those issues one question now hangs: How long will the current moment last?

Shift leaves Trump isolated

The evidence for a shift in public opinion comes from multiple surveys.

A Monmouth University poll released last week, for example, found that a majority of Americans — almost 6 in 10 — agreed that police are more likely to use excessive force against Black people than whites. Only four years ago, when the Monmouth survey asked the same question after another widely publicized police shooting of a Black man, only one-third of the public took that view.

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The same survey found that the share of the public that sees racial discrimination as a big problem had risen to nearly three-quarters, up from about one-half in 2015.

Most of the overall shift came from movement among white Americans. The share of whites who said that police were more likely to use violence against Black people has almost doubled — from roughly a quarter to about half — the poll found.

Another survey, by the online data firm Civiqs, found a sharp surge in support for the Black Lives Matter movement, from about 40% of the public through much of the past two years to 53% this week. Opposition dropped from 38% two years ago to 26% now. Nearly all the movement came suddenly, after Floyd’s killing.

Among white Americans, 45% now say they support Black Lives Matter and 31% oppose it, the firm’s surveys find.

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The public remains more resistant to taking down monuments to the Confederacy, but there, too, opinion has shifted. Registered voters have moved from roughly 2-1 opposition to removing the monuments in 2017 to a closer 44%-32% split, according to surveys by Morning Consult, an online data and public opinion firm.

Those changes have come at the same time as the erosion of Trump’s reelection chances and probably contributed to it. In the average of polls kept by the Real Clear Politics website, Trump currently trails Joe Biden by just over eight percentage points.

As the tide has shifted on racial issues, Trump has grown increasingly defiant, insisting, for example, that “my Administration will not even consider the renaming” of the 10 major U.S. military bases that carry the names of Confederate generals. Those include one — George B. Gordon — who was widely viewed as a leader of the Ku Klux Klan in the decades after the Civil War, and others who were prominent white supremacists.

Trump’s stance reflects his own cultural views, which on this and other issues often appear not to have changed since the mid-1970s, at the latest. But, as has been true throughout his presidency, he also reflects the position of his core supporters.

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Among white Republicans who do not have a college degree — Trump’s blue-collar, conservative base — opposition to Black Lives Matter remains strong, for example: 56% say they oppose the movement, while 12% support it, according to Civiqs’ surveys.

Similarly, Republican sentiment has not budged on the issue of Confederate monuments: By 71%-11%, Republican voters say the statues should remain standing, Morning Consult found.

That divergence between the views of core Republican voters and the rest of the country has helped cause a split among the party’s elected officials.

In the Senate this week, a majority of the Republican-controlled Armed Services Committee voted to eliminate Confederate names on bases and other facilities over the next three years.

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Several Republican senators said they considered the move overdue.

Braxton Bragg was probably the worst commanding general in the Confederate Army,” said Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), referring to the general after whom Ft. Bragg, N.C., is named. “There’s been lots of great soldiers since the Civil War” whose names would be better suited for the Army’s largest base, he said.

U.S. military bases should not be named after people “who fought against our country,” said Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.). “And so I think this is a step in the right direction, this was the right time for it, and I think it sends the right message.”

Others, such as Sens. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), joined Trump in defending the status quo.

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The different responses reflect a division among Republicans that predated Trump and which has returned to the surface now that party leaders have started to believe he is likely to lose the November election: Can Republicans continue to win by representing the views of an older, white, conservative population that is shrinking as a share of the electorate?

In 2016, Trump defied what many party strategists believed and proved that a race-based appeal to white voters on issues of immigration, crime and economic nationalism could — barely — win a national election. But the divisiveness with which he has governed has helped create the shift in public opinion that now endangers his reelection.

The fear among some Democrats is that the shift among white voters toward greater empathy with Black people will not last and that Trump will be able to ride a backlash to victory. So far, there’s no sign of that, but a backlash would fit the historical pattern of U.S. racial attitudes dating back to the abandonment of Reconstruction in the 1870s and 1880s and the conservative swing following the civil rights victories of the 1960s.

Given the deep problems of the economy, the continued coronavirus crisis and the widespread public dismay over his behavior in office, even another white backlash on racial issues might not suffice to get Trump reelected. But with the defiant stance he’s adopted, it’s likely a necessary starting point for any comeback he may make.

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Congress debates police reform

Democrats introduced their police reform bill in the House this week. As Sarah Wire wrote, it would ban chokeholds and make civil lawsuits easier to bring against police officers accused of violating people’s rights.

One model for police reform that many people have eyed is Camden, N.J., which, seven years ago, disbanded its police force and started over. As Chris Megerian wrote, crime in the city dropped 42% between 2012 and 2019.

The push to set national standards for police is being led by Rep. Karen Bass of Los Angeles. As a young activist, Bass saw police reforms fizzle after the death of Rodney King. She doesn’t plan to let that happen again, Wire and Jennifer Haberkorn wrote in a profile of the congresswoman, who has attracted attention as a potential successor to Speaker Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco when she decides to step down.

Unlike Pelosi, Bass has some notable friendships across the partisan aisle, including with House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield, whom she met when they both served in the state Assembly. McCarthy has voiced support for some elements of her bill.

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In the Senate, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky has asked Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, who soon is likely to be the only Black Republican in Congress, to draft a bill the party can get behind. (The one Black Republican in the House, Rep. Will Hurd of Texas, announced last year he’s not running for reelection).

The House held its first hearing on Bass’ bill this week. The emotional high point came from George Floyd’s brother Philonise Floyd. “He didn’t deserve to die over $20,” he told lawmakers, referring to his brother.

Trump’s response to Floyd’s killing has made U.S. diplomats’ jobs harder, Tracy Wilkinson wrote.

Doyle McManus in his column said progressive activists should drop their slogan of “Defund the police” and push for reform.

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Fed sees long road to recovery

Despite an unexpectedly strong rebound in jobs in May, Federal Reserve officials still see a long road to economic recovery from the recession caused by the coronavirus.

Fed Chair Jerome H. Powell said the central bank expects unemployment to remain at or above 10% for most of this year and that they intend to keep interest rates at historically low levels into 2022, Don Lee wrote.

White House officials complained that Powell’s statements were too gloomy.

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Campaigning starts to resume

Trump announced he will resume campaign rallies June 19 in Tulsa, Okla., Noah Bierman wrote. The announcement drew sharp rebukes for its timing — Juneteenth, a day that many Americans celebrate to commemorate Emancipation — and its locale, a city that saw one of the worst racial massacres in U.S. history almost a century ago.

Biden is also beginning to step out of his coronavirus isolation. But he’s finding that Zoom works very well to rake in money, Evan Halper wrote. The Democratic hopeful’s war chest has swelled as big donors, many in California, have begun to open their checkbooks and the activism spurred by the nationwide protests has generated a flood of small, online donors, as well.

Mark Barabak traveled to Arizona, which is emerging as a key swing state, and found many older voters having second thoughts about their past support for Trump.

The president may have worsened his problems with older voters when he vilified a 75-year-old protester who was shoved to the ground by police in Buffalo, N.Y., Bierman and Eli Stokols wrote. Trump retweeted a groundless attack circulating in some conservative media accusing the protester, who remains hospitalized, of having faked the fall that left him bleeding from one ear.

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Michael Finnegan reports that Michael R. Bloomberg is getting a lukewarm response from Democrats as he seeks a new role in the anti-Trump campaign. The former New York City mayor has contributed some money to Democrats, but less, so far, than he had suggested he would during his brief effort to win the party’s nomination.

Who lost out in the race for masks?

A lot of states vastly overpaid for coronavirus face masks, Anna Phillips and Del Wilber report, based on public records from states and localities around the country. While big states like California had to pay some premium to get masks, smaller states and those that came late to the market got hit the hardest, they found.

Missiles without a home

The U.S. wants to base a new generation of missiles in Pacific nations to counter the rise of China’s military. But some U.S. allies don’t want them, David Cloud reported. The opposition from allies could pose a significant problem for the planned military buildup.

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Until next time, keep track of all the developments in national politics and the Trump administration on our Politics page and on Twitter at @latimespolitics.

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