Stymied for Now, Trump Can Still Outflank the Democrats

President Trump is down but not out,” says the headline in the New York Post. Beneath it, columnist Michael Goodwin writes that Trump is “battered, bruised and beaten,” his polls cratering, his presidency “at low tide,” and his enemies “riding high.” Worse than that, Trump’s failure to extract from those enemies any funding for a southern border wall has “some erstwhile supporters spitting venom at him.”

Over at Townhall.com, Militant Normal paladin Kurt Schlichter is urging wavering Trump supporters to resist playing the Democrats’ game. “Chill,” he says, “Just chill.” He points out that Nancy Pelosi “was counting on you to set up as a do-or-die test for Trump over something where she and Chuck Schumer held a veto.” Schlichter warns that the congressional Democrats “want you to say ‘Gosh, Trump didn’t get the wall yet so I’m going to stop supporting him’ and to give up in despair.” Don’t do it, he says.

While neither Goodwin nor Schlichter counsel despair, their ideas for Trump’s next move differ. Goodwin wants the president to fight it out on the border issue if it takes all summer, as General Grant would put it. Meantime, Schlichter says we should trust Trump’s instincts and accept that the shutdown wasn’t working. He asks:

Did any of you see any indication at all that the shutdown tactic was about to deliver us victory, that it was not becoming a drag? Me neither. Cut your losses. Pull back here, counterattack there.

So, where to counterattack?

As I never tire of pointing out, the Democrats have a huge vulnerability regarding public safety, one that involves The Wall only tangentially. That vulnerability is, in a word, crime. Trump gets this, more or less. He calls the Dems the “party of crime” because of their hostility toward law enforcement and their winking, nodding, “come hither” encouragement of illegal immigration, and he has just rolled out a slogan for the next two years: “Build a Wall and Crime Will Fall!”

But as that slogan suggests, making crime fall is the goal; building the wall is only a means toward that end—and not the only or even the most important means. I’m not sure Trump understands that. Look at this political ad he put online a year ago in reference to a notorious (and “undocumented”) California cop-killer. It demands:

Build the wall. Stop illegal immigration, now. Democrats who stand in our way will be complicit in every murder committed by illegal immigrants. President Trump will fix our border and keep our families safe.

That’s a strong message, but it’s not enough. As I argued at the time, liberal Democrats are complicit in much more than just the murders committed by illegal immigrants, and keeping American families safe requires much, much more than merely building the wall. Unfortunately, neither the president nor his team appear to have grasped those facts. And so the Democrats have yet to pay the price for being, as Trump has rightly said, “very weak on crime.”

Let us examine their weakness on crime. It’s an exposed flank, a fat target that gets fatter every day.

Our attention is drawn there by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, whose office last year published this epic specimen of liberal self-congratulation:

By declaring the death penalty inadmissible in all cases and working to end the practice globally, Pope Francis is ushering in a more righteous world for us all. The death penalty is morally indefensible and has no place in the 21st century.

Pope Francis’s decision is a validation of my father’s principled stand against the death penalty in the face of overwhelming support for capital punishment. My father staked his political career on his opposition to the death penalty and never backed down, saying it “demeans those who strive to preserve human life and dignity.”

As Governor, Mario Cuomo vetoed legislation reinstating the death penalty 12 times in 12 years.  He did this because he believed the death penalty was wrong and he had the courage to stand firm in his beliefs—so much so that he was willing to lose his office rather than capitulate.  Pop was right then, and he is right now.

The death penalty was reinstated in New York under the Pataki administration but halted by the courts in 2004. In his final years, my father continued to advocate for eliminating the law from the books, calling it a “stain on our conscience.” Today, in solidarity with Pope Francis and in honor of my father, I will be advancing legislation to remove the death penalty—and its ugly stain in our history—from State law once and for all.

The Cuomos’ “solidarity with Pope Francis” goes only so far. When the subject is abortion, things change. Unlike in the former case, the Holy Father’s views on abortion are not at all inconsistent with Christian tradition. Perhaps for that very reason, that issue turns this pretended “solidarity” of left-wing politicians with the Catholic Church into brass fronted impudence. When New York’s limitless abortion law was enacted this month, to the hosannas of Andrew and his ilk, the governor had the Big Apple’s skyline lit up in pink. People in and out of the Church were rolling their eyes at that. Where did the “solidarity” go? Follow Cuomo’s Twitter feed, which quickly lit up with the derisive comments such hypocrisy has earned.

Although the Democrats’ increasingly extreme support for abortion puts them at odds with much of the country, that’s not what makes them so vulnerable today. Roe v.Wade, after all, is an activist landmark and Americans remain closely divided about it, with a powerful elite stridently defending the activist position and most of the rest of us confused or ambivalent. Even on the pro-life side, people may feel guilty for not doing more to stop what pro-lifers must view as a crime against humanity. In short, where opposition to crime involves Americans demanding justice, opposition to abortion involves Americans facing justice. It’s a tough Roe to hoe.

The question of crime and punishment is different. George Pataki, a Republican from upstate New York, was a “squish” on the right to life, almost as squishy as the elder Cuomo was. But in 1994, Pataki ejected Saint Mario from Albany. He did it by fighting Cuomo over the death penalty. Furthermore, in the nation’s other deep-blue megastate, Californians have twice rejected ballot measures to abolish capital punishment, in 2012 and 2016, even while voting overwhelmingly for Democrats up and down the ticket.

It used to be that Democratic leaders bowed to their constituents’ views on the death penalty by at least feigning support for it. No one wanted to be the next Michael Dukakis. And once upon a time, even prominent Democrats were wholeheartedly on board with it. Ed Koch, for example. Mayor of New York from 1978 to 1989, Koch penned an opinion piece in 1985 for The New Republic that leaves no doubt as to the sincerity of his views:

During my 22 years in public service, I have heard the pros and cons of capital punishment expressed with special intensity. . . . Because I support the death penalty for heinous crimes of murder, I have sometimes been the subject of emotional and outraged attacks by voters who find my position reprehensible or worse. I have listened to their ideas. I have weighed their objections carefully. I still support the death penalty. . . . It must be available to punish crimes of cold-blooded murder, cases in which any other form of punishment would be inadequate and, therefore, unjust. . . .

Fewer and fewer Americans can remember the days when unlocked doors were the norm and murder was a rare and terrible offense. . . . Human life deserves special protection, and one of the best ways to guarantee that protection is to assure that convicted murderers do not kill again. Only the death penalty can accomplish this end. . . . A prisoner named Lemuel Smith, while serving four life sentences for murder … lured a woman corrections officer into the chaplain’s office and strangled her. He then mutilated and dismembered her body. An additional life sentence for Smith is meaningless. Because New York has no death penalty statute, Smith has effectively been given a license to kill. …

Opponents of the death penalty frequently cite the sixth of the Ten Commandments in an attempt to prove that capital punishment is divinely proscribed. In the original Hebrew, however, the Sixth Commandment reads, “Thou Shalt Not Commit Murder,” and the Torah specifies capital punishment for a variety of offenses. The biblical viewpoint has been upheld by philosophers throughout history. The greatest thinkers of the nineteenth century—Kant, Locke, Hobbes, Rousseau, Montesquieu, and Mill—agreed that natural law properly authorizes the sovereign to take life in order to vindicate justice. Only Jeremy Bentham was ambivalent.  Washington, Jefferson, and Franklin endorsed it. Abraham Lincoln authorized executions for deserters in wartime. Alexis de Tocqueville, who expressed profound respect for American institutions, believed that the death penalty was indispensable to the support of social order. …

The death of anyone—even a convicted killer—diminishes us all. But we are diminished even more by a justice system that fails to function. … When we protect guilty lives, we give up innocent lives in exchange. … It is hard to imagine anything worse than being murdered while neighbors do nothing. But something worse exists. When those same neighbors shrink back from justly punishing the murderer, the victim dies twice.

New York Democrats used to have Ed Koch as their leader. Now they’re stuck with Bill De Blasio and Andrew Cuomo. Nationally, few Democrat-led legislatures or Democrat-appointed judges are in Ed Koch’s mold anymore. Instead, they show increasing scorn for the backward citizens in their care. They abolished the death penalty in New Jersey (2007), New Mexico (2009), Illinois (2011), Connecticut (2012), Maryland (2013), Delaware (2016) and Washington (2018). In New York, the legislature acquiesced in the penalty’s abolition by judicial and executive actions from 2004 to 2008. Now the state’s top Democrat wants to remove its “ugly stain” by purging the offending statute from the books.

Even California’s junior U.S. Senator Kamala Harris, who cultivated a “tough on crime” image when she was San Francisco’s district attorney and state attorney general and who now bills herself as fighting “For the People,” says she opposes the death penalty and welcomes a debate on it during the coming presidential campaign. We’ll see how well this flies with voters. The Golden State’s “progressive prosecutor” already has a few things to answer for. For example, San Francisco Chronicle reporter Joe Garofoli has noted one of her demerits:

Harris’ Democratic primary opponents probably won’t bring it up, as they all oppose the death penalty, just as Harris does. But should the California Democrat survive the primary battle, you can bet President Trump’s first TV attack ad will include some version of this riff: “As San Francisco’s district attorney, Kamala Harris refused to seek the death penalty for a gang member who killed a police officer.”

Since long before becoming president, Trump has often spoken in favor of the death penalty, most recently in response to the massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. But his comments generally have been vague and emotional, as if he were merely venting—the sort of thing you’d hear from the garrulous guy at the end of the bar. To make the most of this issue, he should get much more specific, more focused on what needs to be done, what obstacles must be overcome, and how it all can help us. In an essay for American Greatness that examined the “hang ’em high” stand taken by the famous New Deal Democrat Will Rogers, I summed it up this way:

The facts strongly suggest that by bringing back the gallows, and putting it into heavy service, Americans can have a greater impact on crime than by anything we have been doing these past 50 years. A new reliance on the gallows can save hundreds of thousands of innocent people’s lives. It can break apart the entire culture of gangsterism. Over time, it can empty out our bulging, hellish prisons. More than any other single measure, it can restore to us the America many of us are old enough to remember: an America where people rich and poor lived in peace and security, without fear of their neighbors. That was Will Rogers’ America. It can be ours again, too.

Are you listening, Mr. President? You can’t count on having a pushover opponent in 2020 as you did in 2016. If you want to win, you need to focus on the one big issue where Democratic politicians have left their voters in the lurch. Give those voters a real alternative, not just in words, but in deeds. If you do, the Democrats in 2020 will never know what hit them.

Photo Credit: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

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About Karl Spence

Karl Spence is a retired journalist living in San Antonio. His work has appeared in National Review, the Chattanooga Free Press, American Thinker and at www.fairamendment.us.