The Corner

Politics & Policy

Trump Continues to Highlight Zoning Issue

President Donald Trump arrives from his travel to Atlanta, on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, D.C., July 15, 2020. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

Yesterday, in an Atlanta address on “Rebuilding America’s Infrastructure,” President Trump again emphasized his determination to eliminate Obama’s wildly radical and legally baseless rule on Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH). Not long before the president spoke, I asked whether he would make a campaign issue out of Joe Biden’s promise to enforce AFFH to the hilt. That promise means Biden is out to end the political and economic independence of America’s suburbs, effectively putting an end not only to suburban zoning but to many other aspects of local control as well. With the suburbs holding the swing vote in this election, going after Biden’s anti-suburban plans seems like a winning play.

So, is Trump going to make Biden’s war on the suburbs a campaign issue? Yesterday I said “probably.” Today I say, “It’s already happening.” Touching on the issue in two successive speeches means it now seems incorporated into the campaign.

The potential here is great. Will we see ads on the issue and speeches or events that bring it into focus, rather than passing mentions in extended speeches on other topics? We’ll have to wait and see. In any case, for the first time, AFFH and the issues of suburban self-governance and federal overreach that the rule raises seem to have entered American political campaigning.

It’s notable that, in his Atlanta remarks, the president stressed Biden’s determination to “hold hostage billions in federal Surface Transportation Grants for states and localities unless the states and local suburban communities abolish single-family zoning rules.” This is the hammer Biden has added to the already deeply controlling AFFH rule. Under the original rule, localities could at least opt out of their HUD grants — and thus out of federal control — even if at the cost of millions of dollars. But what suburb can afford to cut itself off from state road repairs? With that addition, Biden’s plan truly constitutes a war on suburban independence.

The time for asking what suburbanites think of Trump’s ornery tweets, or of Biden’s fading acuity, is gone. It’s time to ask instead what Trump and Biden think of the suburbs. The contrast could not be more stark.

Stanley Kurtz is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.

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