US President Donald Trump and his Democratic rival Joe Biden have come out swinging, trading blame for the rising violence and crime in the country that have taken centre stage as the race for the November 3 election enters the final lap.
With their party conventions behind them and 63 days to the election, Trump and Biden on Monday in their own signature styles addressed the violence issue, which is an offshoot of the nation-wide Black Lives Matter movement against racism and police killing of African-Americans.
Biden is leading Trump in the national polls as well as in the swing states where neither party has a decisive lead and could go either way.
But his lead has been slightly eroding making it important for the Democrat to deal with law and order issue, where Trump and the Republicans appear strong.
In the RealClearPolitics aggregation of national polls, Biden’s lead has come down from 7.8 per cent on August 24 to 6.2 per cent on Monday, an erosion of 1.8 per cent.
In the six “battleground” or swing states, Biden’s lead was down from 3.9 per cent on August 22 to 2.7 per cent on August 26, a loss of 1.2 per cents.
Biden, who is yet to participate in a mass rally since the coronavirus outbreak in March, spoke at a meeting meant only for broadcast and news reports without the public at a converted steel plant in Pittsburgh.
He said Trump “can’t stop the violence – because for years he has fomented it”.
Trump is a President who “sows chaos rather than providing order”. he said.
Defending himself against accusations by Trump and the Republicans that he was soft on the violence wracking parts of the country, Biden said: “I’ll be clear about all of this. Rioting is not protesting. Looting is not protesting. Setting fires is not protesting.”
Those involved in these acts should be prosecuted, he added.
Rebutting Trump’s claims that there would be a radical takeover of the country if Biden were elected, he said: “Ask yourself: Do I look like a radical socialist with a soft spot for rioters? Really?”
Biden said that Americans wanted safety from the Covid-19 pandemic, which Trump has failed to provide, he said.
Speaking at a news conference after Biden’s speech, Trump alleged: “For months, Joe Biden has given moral aid and comfort to the vandals repeating the monstrous lie that these were peaceful protests.”
He added that in Biden’s Pittsburgh speech “he didn’t mention the far left, or, from what I saw, I don’t believe he mentioned the word ‘Antifa'”.
Antifa, short for Anti-Fascist, is a loose anarchist group that Trump has blamed for the violence in the protests, but the Democrats have denied that the group was involved.
However, a man who is a suspect in the killing of a member of a right-wing group on August 26 in Portland, Oregon, during protests and counter-protests has identified himself as “100 per cent Antifa”.
Trump said that the major cities that have seen riots and lawlessness are all run by Democrats.
“The rioters and Joe Biden have a side: They’re both on the side of the radical left, and that is so obvious. And until that neutralizes, you’re never going to have safe areas in those Democrat-run areas,” he said.
Trump, unlike Biden has been participating in rallies across the country in defiance of coronavirus safety advisories.
He addressed one on August 26 in New Hampshire and is scheduled to visit Kenosha, Wisconsin on Tuesday to survey the property damaged by rioters following the August 23 police shooting of Jacob Blake, a 27-year-old African-American man.
One of the properties affected by the riots was a car dealership owned by an Indian-origin family which was looted and set ablaze by rioters destorying about 100 cars and causing damage worth about $2.5 million.
Biden was scheduled to visit Kenosha on Monday but cancelled it because of the tense situation and went to Pittsburgh instead.
Two days after Blake’s shooting, a White teenager from another state killed two people who were participating in the protests in Kenosha during a confrontation with them, heightening the tension.
But Trump refused to condemn the teenager, saying: “We’re looking at all of it… It’s under investigation.”
Asked by reporters about it, he appeared to make a self-defence case for the teenager, saying that he fell while trying to get away and shot them when he was attacked.
Responding to it, Biden said in a statement: “Tonight, the President declined to rebuke violence. He wouldn’t even repudiate one of his supporters who is charged with murder because of his attacks on others. He is too weak, too scared of the hatred he has stirred to put an end to it.”