James Carville has an op-ed in today’s print Wall Street Journal called “Democrats Are the Anticrime Party.” He may be 76 years old, but the “Ragin’ Cajun” is still cooking with gas.
Crime is going to be an issue up and down the ballot in 2022, and many local politicians are already feeling the heat. Now that violent crime is on the rise, we Democrats can no longer afford to sit by passively while Republicans trumpet bellicose law-and-order talking points. If we don’t aggressively begin to own the crime issue and make Republicans respond to their own failures, we risk losing our slim majorities in Congress.
His first sentence is certainly right. Crime hasn’t been a major issue in electoral politics for quite some time since, as Carville correctly points out, it has been declining for quite some time. Voters cast ballots out of dissatisfaction more often than they do out of gratitude, so there hasn’t been much reason to make crime an issue at the ballot box until now.
Knowing that Republicans are already making it an issue, Carville crafts a Democratic response. Basically, make it about Trump:
The modern Democratic Party is flat-out better on crime than Republicans. Mr. Trump presided over the greatest crime rise in modern American history. Now it’s time for the Democratic consultant class to stop its bed-wetting on this issue and take this case to the American people: A lawless president created the perfect storm for the crime crisis America now faces.
From beginning to the end, Mr. Trump’s presidency was one long crime wave. He broke laws, obstructed justice and incited violence knowing he wouldn’t be held accountable while in office. Eight of his campaign associates were put in shackles. He pardoned five of them. Corruption became the administration’s oxygen, and Mr. Trump’s stunning display of lawlessness set an example for criminals to crawl out of the shadows and believe they would never be brought to justice. It was also no coincidence that Mr. Trump presided over an all-time low in white-collar crime enforcement.
This is, of course, not a great argument. The FBI’s most recent release of annual crime data was for 2019, and it began its press release triumphantly:
For the third consecutive year, the estimated number of violent crimes in the nation decreased when compared with the previous year’s statistics, according to FBI figures released today. In 2019, violent crime was down 0.5% from the 2018 number. Property crimes also dropped 4.1%, marking the 17th consecutive year the collective estimates for these offenses declined.
Republicans don’t have to muster much effort to say that everything was going swell until the “defund the police” crowd started gaining influence on the left. The actions of elected Democrats in big cities seem to agree with that assessment. The Wall Street Journal reported that despite last year’s promises to reduce police department funding, “In the nation’s 20 largest local law-enforcement agencies, city and county leaders want funding increases for nine of the 12 departments where next year’s budgets already have been proposed.”
Since urban crime is such a local government issue, blaming Republicans for it is a tough sell. Republicans have only slightly more influence in American urban government than they do in Canadian urban government (i.e., none), and it’s been that way for decades.
Still, Carville knows enough about winning elections to know that it’s not always about making an airtight logical argument. When something happens under a president, you pin it to that president, whether he was actually responsible for it or not. Joe Biden doesn’t have much control over the price of gas, but you better believe Republicans are going to attack Democrats over rising gas prices under his watch.
There’s also the reality that Trump arouses emotions in people that other political figures don’t. Much has been made of Republicans not moving on from Trump, but this is another case where Democrats don’t want to leave him behind either.
But all this disregards perhaps a more important issue: If Democrats were listening to Carville, his argument wouldn’t be on the opinion page of the Wall Street Journal.