Kenosha Was a Wake-Up Call for Democratic Leaders across the Country

A man walks by as riots turn into fires after a black man, identified as Jacob Blake, was shot by police, Kenosha, Wis., August 24, 2020. (Stephen Maturen/Reuters)

For the first time, this summer’s riots have spread beyond far-left megacities to Anytown, USA — and the political risks to Democrats are clear.

After a summer of seemingly unending chaos in America’s cities, Kenosha just may have been the tipping point.

For three nights, the city burned in rioting after the officer-involved shooting of Jacob Blake, while Democratic governor Tony Evers refused to deploy a Wisconsin National Guard contingent large enough to quell the violence.

For three days, Evers issued inflammatory statement after inflammatory statement — even going so far as to say that a Kenosha police officer “mercilessly” shot Blake — and refused to either condemn the violence or urge calm. Laughably, the sternest warning he gave rioters was to remind them to “wear your mask and keep social distance as best you can.”

Local leaders and law-enforcement officials in Kenosha begged Evers to deploy the Guard in numbers sufficient to restore order, asking for a total of 750 soldiers. On Monday, Evers sent 150. Kenosha continued to burn.

So adamant was Evers that he rejected the Trump administration’s offer of help.

“We have a National Guard standing by that if the general for the National Guard needs additional help, we’re there to do it,” White House chief of staff Mark Meadows said Tuesday. “But today, that request was denied by the governor.”

Evers upped the deployment to just 250 soldiers the same day, and still, Kenosha burned.

Amid the chaos, a 17-year-old from Illinois shot two men to death and injured a third in what may have been an act of self-defense. This seemed to be the wake-up call that Evers needed, and while he still couldn’t bring himself to condemn the rioting, he finally issued a statement indicating that he was prepared to do something to stop it.

“A senseless tragedy like this cannot happen again,” he said. “We must turn from violence and remember that any single act of injustice against one person is less justice for us all.” In a surprising about-face, he accepted the White House’s offer of more troops and allowed a deployment sufficient to stop the lawlessness.

Unsurprisingly, it worked. Kenosha stopped burning and has remained relatively calm ever since, thereby proving what rational observers have always known: that a show of force is the only thing that will stop the rioting and that Democratic mayors and governors can make such a show any time they choose. They just have to want to, or at least be forced to, as Evers clearly was.

“The rioting has to stop,” CNN anchor Don Lemon gravely intoned Tuesday night before dropping the veneer of objectivity altogether. “It’s showing up in the polling. It’s showing up in focus groups. It is the only thing — it is the only thing right now that is sticking [to Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden].”

The following morning, the New York Times used a bold headline to warn that “Kenosha Is Already Swaying Some Voters in Wisconsin.” One of them, Priscilla Gazda, said she’d voted only once in her life — for Barack Obama in 2008 — but would be voting for Trump in November, because “he seems to be more about the American people and what we need.”

Evers apparently took notice of these warning signs. In that sense, he is emblematic of a Democratic Party that has suddenly awakened to just how devastating this summer’s widespread rioting has been. The physical destruction of Democrat-controlled cities was not enough to spur such an awakening — it took political blowback — but it has thankfully happened nonetheless.

While no one should hold their breath that radical Democratic leaders in Portland and Seattle will follow Evers’s lead, his sudden change of heart is a tell that Kenosha just may have changed the politics of this summer’s riots. For the first time since the chaos started, it had spread outside of far-left megacities, reaching Anytown, USA. If it could happen in Kenosha, it could happen anywhere else that Democratic leaders are seen as allowing it to happen. That more than anything is what prompted Evers to act, and what might finally force Democratic leaders across the country to act as well.

Dan O’Donnell is a talk show host with News/Talk 1130 in Milwaukee and 1310 WIBA in Madison and a columnist for the MacIver Institute.