The release on bail of Derek Chauvin, the officer charged in George Floyd’s death, prompted yet another surge of unrest in Minnesota. But even as demonstrations filled the streets for a second night, Donald Trump’s campaign was pulling ad money out of the state. The president’s law-and-order message, which campaign officials had expected to resonate in the protest-torn state, wasn’t working.
Trump taking down the fabled “blue wall” of Rust Belt states—Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan—was the most shocking component of his historic upset in 2016. Just as unexpected, to Democrats, pollsters and political pundits, was this: he nearly won Minnesota, falling just 1.5 points behind Hillary Clinton in what was supposed to be the bluest of blue states. Democrats have won in Minnesota every presidential cycle since 1976, the longest streak in the nation.
The Trump campaign went all in this time around, convinced it could flip the state and give him some electoral breathing room should, say, Wisconsin (which, like Minnesota, has ten electoral votes) flip back to the Democrats. It has 79 paid staffers in the state, Trump staged rallies there three times in the last three months, and campaign surrogates have been in the state repeatedly.
With Trump currently trailing in all the Blue Wall states he won in 2016, the need to carry Minnesota looks more urgent than ever. The problem for Trump: the state appears to be slipping away. According to Real Clear Politics, an aggregation of recent polling done through the month of September shows the president trailing in the state by nine points. And the demographic break downs of those polls—the so-called “internals”— are even more dispiriting for the Trump Team. They show the president underperforming relative to 2016 in his key constituency: white males without college degrees.
The fact that Trump hasn’t drawn closer in Minnesota suggests that a key strategic shift in the Trump campaign in the late summer—its emphasis on ‘law and order” in the wake of urban unrest across the country—has not worked. Late this spring, Minnesota became ground zero for two issues that have since roiled the country: the death of George Floyd at the hands of three police officers fueled outrage nationwide, prompting large demonstrations demanding racial justice and significant change in law enforcement. In many cases, however, the protests turned violent, something the Trump campaign seized on.
“Law and order” became a campaign catchword—a nightly staple on Fox News—and the campaign cut TV ads emphasizing the looting and violence, trying to tie it to Biden and the Democrats. Trump strategists were convinced the chaos in Minneapolis and elsewhere would redound to the president’s benefit, particularly in largely white, middle-class suburbs.