Michigan Rep. Debbie Dingell has a stark warning for her fellow Democrats: The spike in violence in many urban areas, combined with attacks on the police, could become the wedge issue that once again costs her party the electoral votes of her state, and possibly the election.
“Law enforcement and support of law enforcement is an issue I am seeing in the suburbs [and] is an issue we really do need to pay attention to,” Dingell told the Yahoo News “Skullduggery” podcast. “You’ve seen what’s happening in the urban cities and some of this crime and the violence that you’re seeing at some of these protests. And Donald Trump is trying to use it as a wedge issue.”
Dingell, the widow of the popular Michigan Rep. John Dingell, famously warned the Hillary Clinton campaign four years ago it was in danger of losing Michigan because of frustration among voters about trade agreements that critics charged cost the jobs of American workers. Her forecast proved prescient as Trump narrowly carried the state by 11,000 votes.
Now, she said, violence and lawlessness could play the same role this year as trade did in 2016 if the Biden-Harris campaign and the Democratic Party as a whole doesn’t make a stand for public safety. It’s a message she says she has delivered to the Biden campaign, but worries that Democrats will find it too “uncomfortable” a subject to talk about.
“I’ve flagged it for everybody that this could be the trade issue and we can’t let [Trump] use it as a wedge issue,” Dingell said in the interview.
Dingell made clear she has been supportive of the Black Lives Matters protests in the aftermath of the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. And Biden, for his part, while endorsing the protests, has also said that he opposes calls to “defund the police.” And in remarks that were broadcast on the opening night of this week’s virtual convention, Biden affirmed that “most cops are good.”
But Dingell indicated that Biden — who will formally accept his party’s nomination Thursday night — may need to do more than that.
Although most polls show Biden with a comfortable lead in Michigan right now — with some giving him as much as a 16-point lead — Dingell said she doesn’t believe them and sees worrisome trends in recent weeks. In light of a spike in violence in Detroit, she said that she is being invited to an increasing number of “support law enforcement events” in her district, which surrounds the city, and she worries the national party isn’t taking the threat seriously enough.
“Every Sunday the last month there’s been an event in my district and I am there and I’m thanking law enforcement for what they do,” Dingell said. “This COVID is just creating a lot of stress. I have had several really tragic murders. In my district alone, a family of four was killed last weekend, another family was. In those communities it’s the law enforcement, it’s the local police and the sheriffs departments who are going in, figuring out what’s wrong, finding the perpetrators, arresting them.”
“There are bad apples in law enforcement and we have to have the discussion about systematic racism in this country and it is a fact that a young Black man will be treated differently than a young white man if stopped,” Dingell added. “But we can have both discussions and too many people are afraid of having uncomfortable discussions — and that is a mistake for us as Democrats.”
Dingell emphasized the critical role that law enforcement has played in a Michigan grappling with the coronavirus, including by supporting overwhelmed citizens.
“They do wellness calls, they respond to domestic violence, they are the glue of a lot of the communities as well,” Dingell said.
Dingell said it is important for the Democratic Party to remember that, as with teachers, law enforcement should be considered essential personnel.
“Our law enforcement, like our teachers, are social workers,” she said. “Domestic abuse is really on the rise. ... Who’s the first responding?”
Dingell said that despite Democratic Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s popularity and the polls showing Biden ahead, Democrats should not assume Michigan will go their way in the presidential election. Among other things, Dingell said, many swing voters in Michigan are upset with Whitmer for her stay-at-home order, issued at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic.
“We’ve got to work very hard to make sure every single vote turns out in November,” Dingell said.
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