Vice President Mike Pence used his nomination acceptance speech Wednesday night to unequivocally side with law enforcement, calling for “law and order” at a time when recent shootings and deaths of Black people at the hands of police has led to protests in the streets and boycotts that are rippling through the sports world.
Hours after an extraordinary protest by basketball and baseball stars over the latest police shooting of a Black man – this time in Kenosha, Wisconsin, threatened to overshadow Pence’s turn to headline the convention, Pence and President Donald Trump are facing new leadership tests both in their handling of race relations and Hurricane Laura, a massive Category 4 storm that approached landfall near the border of Louisiana and Texas.
Pence offered words of support for those in the path of Hurricane Laura, calling it a “serious storm.”
“We urge all those in the affected areas to heed state and local authorities,” Pence said. “Stay safe, and know that we’ll be with you every step of the way to support, rescue, response and recovery in the days and weeks ahead.”
But during the rest of his speech, Pence made little effort to acknowledge the desperation of Black Americans who are protesting decades of brutality at the hands of police.
As Democrats try to force a conversation about the systemic racism in policing, Pence offered a firm defense of law enforcement and offered a vague call to stop the violence in American cities, including Minneapolis, Portland and Kenosha, without making it clear that it was the police who were responsible for the most shocking acts of violence in two of those cities.
“We will always stand with those who stand on the thin blue line and we are not going to defund the police, not now, not ever,” he said, inaccurately suggesting that Joe Biden would do so even though the former vice president has explicitly rejected calls from some left-wing activists to embrace the idea.
Promoting Trump’s pro-police “law and order” message, Pence only referenced the most recent violence in Wisconsin in order to slam Biden.
“Last week, Joe Biden didn’t say one word about the violence and chaos engulfing cities across this country, ” Pence said. “Let me be clear: the violence must stop – whether in Minneapolis, Portland, or Kenosha.”
Support for police as protests ripple through sporting world
Pence’s central theme of the night stood in sharp contrast with the decision by teams in the National Basketball Association, Women’s National Basketball Association, Major League Baseball and Major League Soccer teams not to play in their Wednesday night games to protest police brutality against Black people.
The Milwaukee Bucks decided against playing Game 5 of their playoff series against the Orlando Magic in protest over the police shooting of Jacob Blake – a 29-year-old Black man who was shot multiple times in the back as he tried to enter an SUV with his children in the vehicle – in Kenosha, Wisconsin, which is close to Milwaukee. The two other playoff games scheduled to be played Wednesday night were then also postponed as players decided to join the Bucks in the protest.
It’s a historic moment in the sporting world that seemed a world away from Republican messages of support for police and regular calls for athletes to stick to sports instead of making political statements.
Two people were killed overnight and a third injured during the third night of protests in Kenosha.
Antioch, Illinois, police Deputy Police Chief Geoffrey Guttschow told CNN that Kyle Rittenhouse, 17, turned himself in on Wednesday at the Antioch police headquarters. Rittenhouse lives in Antioch, which is about 20 miles from Kenosha, where the shooting took place during the protest.
Pence did not in any way acknowledge that social media accounts believed to belong to Rittenhouse portray a young White man who has an affinity for guns, who is pro-police and a supporter of Trump.
A Facebook profile and TikTok bio for Rittenhouse both refer to “Blue Lives Matter.” White House counselor Kellyanne Conway responded to reports that the shooting suspect allegedly attended a Trump rally in January. Conway said she was aware of the media reports and that the White House is “not responsible for the private conduct of people who go to rallies.”
Pence goes on offense
Throughout the spring and summer as Americans filled the streets to protest the death of George Floyd, Pence has tried to reframe the debate as an attack on police. In numerous swing state appearances this summer, he has inaccurately suggested that the former vice president would side with far-left activists who favor defunding the police.
He renewed those criticisms on Wednesday night, making the Trump campaign’s case that the 2020 election is a choice between “freedom and opportunity” and a future of “socialism and decline.”
Pence also slammed Biden on national security, noting that he advised against the raid ordered by President Barack Obama to take out Osama bin Laden in Pakistan. He also reprised a comment by former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates that the former vice president had been wrong on nearly every national security issue for the past four decades.
Former top officials in the Obama administration have written in their memoirs that Biden was “against” the bin Laden operation, that he was “firmly in favor of waiting for more information,” and that he was concerned about the risks of a raid.
White washing of administration’s coronavirus record
Rewriting history on Trump’s response to the pandemic, Pence argued that the President’s move to block foreign nationals from China from entering the country in late January saved “untold lives” and “bought us time to launch the greatest national mobilization since World War II.”
In reality, many medical experts have said Trump wasted precious time throughout February and that his restrictions on travel from China came too late to make a major difference in case numbers. Many of the cases that fueled the country’s initial hotspot were later found to come from Europe before Trump instituted a travel ban in March.
And while governors were begging the federal government to ramp up testing resources and devise a national strategy to slow the spread of Covid-19, Trump never put forward a coherent national strategy to stop the virus and insisted that it was the responsibility of governors to obtain supplies, with the federal government serving as back up.
Pence claimed the federal government has now “coordinated the delivery of billions of pieces of personal protective equipment,” ignoring the fact that governors were forced to plead for help from the administration throughout the spring and summer.
And he made the stunning promise that a vaccine would come later this year, which is among the most optimistic projections from health professionals. Most experts believe a vaccine will be ready in early 2021.
“Last week, Joe Biden said ‘no miracle is coming,’” Pence said Wednesday night. “What Joe doesn’t seem to understand is that America is a nation of miracles and we’re on track to have the world’s first safe, effective coronavirus vaccine by the end of this year.”
Appeals to women
The night also featured more impassioned pleas to female voters, a group Trump needs to persuade to have a chance at reelection.
With Trump trailing Biden by double digits among female voters, his allies and members of his team once again sought to portray him as a leader who has promoted and supported women. His daughter-in-law Lara Trump described the Trump Organization as a place where “countless women executives … thrived.”
“Gender didn’t matter, what mattered was the ability to get the job done,” she said.
Earlier, Conway – who became the first female campaign manager to win a presidential campaign when Trump was victorious in 2016 – praised the President for elevating women to senior positions in business and government.
“He confides in and consults us, respects our opinions, and insists that we are on equal footing with the men,” Conway said.
This story has been updated with additional developments from night three of the convention.
CNN’s Kaitlan Collins contributed to this report.