WASHINGTON — Four weeks before the midterm elections, President Donald Trump portrayed Democrats as "anti-police" at an official speech to a police chiefs association in Orlando, Florida, on Monday using language similar to that of his recent campaign rallies.
"For too many years, we have watched politicians escalate political attacks on our courageous police officers and I’ve never seen it more than over the last few years — it’s disgraceful," Trump said, alluding to Democrats. "Politicians who spread this dangerous anti-police sentiment make life easier for criminals and more dangerous for law-abiding citizens, and they also make it more dangerous for police, and it must stop, and it must stop now."
Critics have noted that Trump has made efforts to slash funding for the Justice Department overall and grants to state and local police departments, specifically.
But his commentary fit into a larger argument he has made in increasingly strong terms that he and his fellow Republicans represent the "rule of law" and that Democrats are the "party of crime."
Trump has pointed to his efforts to crack down on illegal immigration, his opposition to so-called sanctuary cities that don't report immigration status to federal authorities and even his support of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh — who was accused of, and denied, sexually assaulting Christine Blasey Ford — as evidence of a "law and order" agenda that recalls the culture wars of the 1960s.
His tagging of Democrats as "the party of crime" is "just another way of reiterating his theme," said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, an expert on political rhetoric who is director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania. "It's also a dominant theme of the Republican Party that goes back to 1964."
Drew Hammill, deputy chief of staff for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Trump's onetime policy of separating undocumented children from their families at the U.S.-Mexico border to discourage illegal immigration undermined his attacks on Democrats.
"Tough talk from a president who puts children in cages," Hammill said.
Other Democrats point to the many close Trump associates who have recently been convicted of crimes as evidence that he's not really a law-and-order or rule-of-law president. Trump's former national security adviser Michael Flynn, former campaign manager Paul Manafort, former deputy campaign manager Rick Gates and former personal lawyer Michael Cohen are among the Trump-world figures who have been convicted or pleaded guilty to a variety of crimes.
Still, Trump has made a special effort to present himself to voters as a champion of law enforcement, and Democrats as an impediment to it.
At one point Monday, Trump named his political adversaries directly, hammering Democrats who have called for getting rid of the current Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency and accusing his partisan opponents of wanting to short-fund police forces.
"These brave ICE officers have been subjected to shameless attacks by leading members of the Democrat Party, including outrageous calls to abolish ICE," he said. "And also, they’re not a big help to us in law enforcement. They don’t want to give us the kind of funds that you people are requesting, but you’re getting them anyway because we’re giving them to you."
Trump's budget for fiscal 2019 recommended slashing funding for hiring in the Justice Department's COPS budget, a Clinton-era grant program that put more local police on the streets, from $195 million to $99 million and eliminating entirely the state criminal alien assistance program, which helps local governments pay for costs associated with detention and deportation of undocumented immigrants.
Democrats and Republicans in Congress have fought Trump to a draw on his justice budget so far, as lawmakers and the White House have agreed to a short-term continuing resolution that keeps the Justice Department and its agencies funded at current levels until December.
Trump did not mention that battle Monday, instead hitting unnamed Democrats for not cooperating with federal efforts to find and deport undocumented immigrants.
"We also strongly oppose efforts from politicians to shackle local police departments and prevent them from cooperating with their federal partners," Trump said.