WILMINGTON, Del. – A difficult political atmosphere for President Joe Biden may have become even more treacherous with the acquittal of Kyle Rittenhouse.
The bite was already facing slippery polls with an electorate worn down by the coronavirus pandemic and rising inflation. Now the president finds himself trapped between outraged Democrats – some of whom were already adamant about Biden’s inability to reform police and suffrage – and Republicans who want to use the Rittenhouse case to exploit the national divide in matters of complaint and race.
“This is one of the last things Biden wants to get involved in right now as he tries to end the big Build Back Better Act and get it over the finish line through the Senate,” said Christopher Borick, director of Muhlenberg College. Department of Public Opinion. “Race and Kyle Rittenhouse are not the place he wants or needs to go deep right now.”
The acquittal of Rittenhouse has touched on new conversations about race justice, vigilance and policing in America. The Illinois teenager armed himself with an AR-15-style semi-automatic rifle during a protest in August 2020 in Kenosha, Wisconsin, days after a white police officer shot at a black man. He said he came to a small town to help protect a parking lot from vandals and provide medical care.
Rittenhouse would end up shooting two men deadly and mutilating a third. Rittenhouse and his lawyers successfully argued that he had acted in self-defense during a confrontation in which he feared for his life.
The verdict in the case comes at a time when Biden is trying to keep his Democrats focused on adopting his massive social services and climate bill and hoping to reverse the trend with Americans buzzing about his performance as president.
The president reacted carefully after Friday’s verdict, expressing respect for the jury’s decision. He later added in a written statement that he, like many Americans, was “angry and worried” about the jury’s acquittal of Rittenhouse.
Meanwhile, Republicans who were successful in this month’s election in Virginia, in part by accusing Democrats of promoting critical race theory in public schools, are embracing 18-year-old Rittenhouse as their newest hero in America’s cultural wars.
GOP representatives Paul Gosar of Arizona and Matt Gaetz of Florida have said they would like to hire him as an intern, and Gosar suggests they fight for the honor. Another Republican, rep. Lauren Boebert of Colorado, predicted Saturday that liberal outrage over the Rittenhouse trial would benefit her party.
“It seems liberals want self-defense to be illegal,” Boebert tweeted. “Try running on it in 2022 and see how far it takes you with the majority of the sensible American public.”
Former President Donald Trump was quick to stand with Rittenhouse after the verdict. He called the teen “brave” to testify in his own defense and accused the left of trying to “catch hatred” with his treatment of Rittenhouse.
Trump has spent much of his post-presidency inciting divisions with his frontal criticism of Biden and of any Republican who has not marched in lock with his views. And most Republicans, either through silence or outright approval, have followed in his footsteps.
In the wake of the acquittal, Republicans have highlighted a tweet from Biden during his winning presidential campaign in 2020, in which he appeared to suggest that Rittenhouse was a white supremacy.
The September 2020 tweet challenged Trump for not “rejecting white supremacy on the debate stage” the previous evening and included a video that included a still image of Rittenhouse from the night of the Kenosha shooting and footage of torch-bearing white supremacists at the Unite the Right rally 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Late. Arkansas’ Tom Cotton and Republican National Committee chair Ronna McDaniel are among the party’s officials who have called on Biden to apologize.
“He anointed a teenager to score political points and spread lies about this case,” McDaniel wrote on Twitter. “What Biden did was dangerous and inflammatory.”
Asked by a journalist shortly after the verdict whether he stood by his post on social media, Biden replied that “I stand by what the jury has concluded.”
Borick, Muhlenberg College’s pollster, said the results of this month’s Virginia election show that running on cultural issues – including race and transgender rights – could be a good strategy for Republicans trying to give energy to a segment of the electorate. who was passionate about Trump but less enthusiastic about the rest of the GOP. But Borick warned that the GOP’s full embrace of Rittenhouse was not without risk.
“I do not know if it is a good place to be if you are trying to reach out to suburban voters and well-educated voters who may not be to blame for the decision to acquit Rittenhouse due to the circumstances, but who are far from confident that keep him up like a hero, ”Borick said.
Even before the verdict, Biden had been under increased pressure from some Democrats over the lack of progress in adopting voting rights and police reform legislation.
Last month, a day after Republicans in the Senate for the second time this year made a major vote proposal, Biden acknowledged that the governing process could be “frustrating and sometimes discouraging,” but urged supporters to “keep the faith.”
At the same time, civil rights leaders have expressed frustration that Biden has not used the power from the bully pulpit anymore to push for a broad bill on police reform named after George Floyd, the black Minneapolis man whose killing last year by police sparked protests around the OS
Speaking at an event earlier this week in which he signed a trio of bills to increase police assistance, Biden only mentioned the George Floyd Act, asking lawmakers from both parties to work together to make it law.
“That’s the next thing,” Biden said.
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