Richard Nixon won the presidency in 1968 largely on a message of anti-crime and law and order after watching how it worked for Ronald Reagan’s campaign for Governor of California in 1966. Nixon, always the astute politician, realized that voters were disturbed about high crime rates and the lack of response from LBJ and Democrat-controlled states, and realized that liberals would have a tough time defending their soft-on-crime policies against a law and order message. Republicans, ever since, have been the lock-up-the-criminals party and have won many elections using the Nixon message.
As Nixon predicted, liberals could never effectively answer the anti-crime message. They never really believed there was such a thing as a criminal, so they ignored the crime crisis, accused conservatives of using crime as a racist ruse, or claimed that more money thrown at social programs would solve the “root causes” of crime. After more than 40 years, they still use the same arguments.
During the 1970s and 80s, the crime rate went through the roof because of demographics, drugs, decisions of liberal judges and state and federal soft-on-crime policies. Things began to change during the Reagan years. With advice and leadership by Attorney General Ed Meese, the appointment of conservative prosecutors and judges and a tougher attitude toward crime in Congress, there was a precipitous decrease in the crime rate as tens of thousands of repeat offenders were prosecuted and sent to prison, often for extended and life sentences. As the crime rate dropped, the issue largely disappeared from political campaigns.
Rising crime rates are back, thanks to the Obama Administration and its liberal attitudes toward law enforcement and criminal justice, the appointment of liberal judges, anti-police policies and rhetoric, and the early release from prison of tens of thousands of chronic offenders. Republicans need to hold them accountable.
A survey by Gallup in April concluded that concern about crime and violence is at its highest point in 15 years. Fifty-three percent of U.S. adults say they personally worry “a great deal” about crime and violence, an increase of 14 percentage points since 2014.
Whenever there has been a confrontation between law enforcement and a mob, the Obama Administration has sided with the criminals and the mob: Cambridge, Massachusetts and the beer summit; the Travon Martin affair; Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri; Eric Garner in New York City; the Freddie Gray case in Baltimore. Black Lives Matter, Al Sharpton, and others are the President’s heroes, the police his villains. The liberal media repeats the drumbeat, and the cacophony against responsible policing and the rule of law is incessant. FBI Director James Comey told an audience recently that his conversations with police officials around the country convinced him there are “marginal pullbacks by lots of police officers.” He noted, “a chill wind blowing through American law enforcement over the last year.” That chill wind reflects a marked and frightening spike in the crime rate in many major cities – but also an erosion of respect for the very principle of the constitutional government.
Obama has presided over the early release of over 40,000 prisoners, many incarcerated for multiple violent offenses. These people will commit much more crimes: according to several studies, repeat offenders have over a 70% recidivism rate. Obama continues to commute sentences, often of violent offenders, and with virtually all Democrats in Congress (and a few misguided Republicans) leads the charge to retroactively abolish mandatory minimum sentences, releasing as many as 10,000 more chronic violent offenders.
The consequences should surprise nobody. If Richard Nixon were still around he would be giving speeches about Democrats’ complacency about skyrocketing crime rates, and today’s conservatives running for office should also. Homicides in the nation’s 56 largest cities are up by 17% since 2014, and in the ten cities with the largest African-American populations, homicides are up by an average of 33%. University of Missouri criminologist Richard Rosenfeld believes that the “only explanation that gets the timing right is a version of the Ferguson effect.” And Heather MacDonald of the Manhattan Institute noted in a May 2015 article in the Wall Street Journal that because of the Ferguson effect “arrests were sharply down in cities like St. Louis and Baltimore because of the incessant drumbeat against the police; officers scale back on proactive policing under the onslaught of anti-cop rhetoric.”
Democrats are also busy restoring rights, particularly the right to vote, to ex-convicts. Recently Terry McAuliffe, Governor of Virginia and a close Clinton ally, signed an executive order to restore voting rights to over 200,000 ex-felons in Virginia. Most of those, according to studies, are African Americans, and most of those who cast ballots will vote for the Democrats: a recent study in four states that have restored voting rights to criminals shows that 73% who turn out to vote, vote Democrat.
A legal challenge to McAuliffe’s order is pending, and the Virginia Supreme Court has agreed to hear it well before the fall election. It should be a campaign issue for Republicans as well.
Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are as far apart on crime as they should be, and Trump needs to turn it into a vibrant campaign issue. Trump recently said “The police are absolutely mistreated and misunderstood….The police in this country have done an unbelievable job of keeping law and order, and they’re afraid for their jobs, they’re afraid of the mistreatment they get.”
Clinton predictably supports all liberal efforts to release prisoners, to curtail victims’ rights and to end tough-on-crime strategies. She has met with representatives of Black Lives Matter, has refused to defend her husband’s support of the 1994 Crime Control Act and favors releasing more convicts, restoring their right to vote, and other leniency strategies.
All of this should become a mainstay Republican campaign issue, tying every Democrat to Obama’s anti-police, soft-on-crime policies. It worked for Nixon, worked for Reagan, and worked for hundreds of other Republican politicians. It can work again in 2016.