People on both the left and the right have wanted President Donald Trump to invoke the 1807 Insurrection Act, allowing him to send in federal troops to quell the ongoing anarchist and communist riots in Democratic cities. Trump has refused to do so, citing his constitutional duty to federalism.
The Republican Motive
It comes as no surprise that many Republicans want the president to send in federal troops to uphold law and order.
At the beginning of the riots, he did threaten to do so – but he did not act on his threats. The historian Victor Davis Hanson argues that the recent slump in his approval among his base is in part due to disappointment with him for not sending in the troops. To them, he appeared weak and ineffectual, Hanson argues.
The Democratic Motive
However, it is perhaps more surprising that many of his Democratic opponents also appear to want Trump to use federal troops against the “mostly peaceful protestors,” but for a completely different reason.
Ever since his election in 2016, the Democrats have argued that Trump is an authoritarian, wannabe-dictator who will use any opportunity to install a fascist regime to oppress freedom of speech, overturn elections, and set aside the will of the people.
The prolongation of the riots makes no sense from a strategic point of view because history shows that chaos and anarchy push people to the right, toward the law and order candidate.
A likely scenario is that the Democrats made the calculation that Trump quickly would send in federal troops, and the legacy media would obediently show footage of “mostly peaceful protesters” being “assaulted” by “stormtroopers.”
If this scenario had played out, Democrats and the media would be able to proclaim that all their fears of fascism and dictatorship were coming true, turning the voters against Trump, and securing the ailing Joe Biden the presidency.
We cannot read Trump’s mind, but it appears that he saw the trap that the Democrats were laying for him. Instead of falling into it, he refused to invoke the Insurrection Act, citing respect for federalism as codified in the constitution.
At every opportunity, he has stated that there is no need for such drastic measures because all that the governors need to do is to ask for help, and he will stop the riots in less than an hour.
It appears to be a brilliant countermove on par with the “only Rosie O’Donnell” reply during the 2016 debates.
It allows him to do two things at once. First, he portrays himself as a constitutional federalist and not an authoritarian. Second, he shifts the entire blame for the riots to the local Democratic mayors and governors.
Every time he repeats his message that he can stop the riots in an hour, if they ask, the American people start wondering why the Democrats refuse to do it. Do they want the riots?
Satisfying his Base
The Trump-administration eventually managed to find a constitutional method that allows it to make use of federal resources. In Oregon, U.S. Marshals deputize state police. It allows Oregon U.S. Attorney Billy Williams to prosecute the arrested rioters rather than the Antifa-friendly local Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schmidt.
Thereby, Trump can declare that he is taking actions to quell the riots, while also pushing his message that he is a staunch constitutionalist who refuses to be a dictator.
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