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Donald Trump is once again threatening to invoke the Insurrection Act to deal with violent protesters. The act gives the president the authority to deploy the military within the borders of the United States during times of civil unrest. As president, Trump has the power to send in the military to enforce federal law in places where the orderly processes of government are absent. The Insurrection Act has been used dozens of times since its passage in 1807 but rarely since the 1960s.
President Lyndon Johnson invoked the Insurrection Act in 1967 to quell riots in Detroit. President Kennedy used the act to deploy troops to southern states to enforce desegregation.
The difference in this instance is that local governments appear to be unwilling to enforce the law and protect people and property. That certainly happened on Thursday night after Trump’s acceptance speech at the RNC.
“They took tremendous abuse,” Mr. Trump said. “Rand Paul was in big trouble last night. He’s a friend of mine. They walk out and they get accosted and they get abused. They get spit on. It’s a disgrace.”
He blamed Washington, D.C., Democratic Mayor Muriel Bowser for allowing the “anarchists” to get close to the White House and vowed, “We’re not going to allow that to happen.”
“Our country’s going to change,” the president said. “We’re not supposed to go in, unless we call it an ‘insurrection.’ But you know what we’re going to do? We’re going to have to look at it. [White House Chief of Staff] Mark Meadows is here. and we’re going to have to look at it, because we’re not going to let that happen to people that go to the White House to celebrate our country.”
Invoking the Insurrection Act would lead to weeping hysterics from the left. All subsequent violence in the streets would be blamed on Trump — an irony that would be lost on most of the left. But Trump is outraged that Senator Rand Paul and several others were accosted after leaving the White House following the president’s speech.
And he has correctly sized up the political situation as Democratic nominee Joe Biden, seeing his poll numbers dropping and opposition to the riots growing, will begin campaigning in person soon.
“The poll numbers have swung,” Mr. Trump said. “Today it was announced that Joe Biden is coming out of the basement, because the poll numbers have totally swung. It was a rapid swing.”
He taunted his rival, “Sleepy Joe said he’s coming out [to campaign] in 10 days. That’s like an eternity in Trump-ville. That’s a long time. That’s a big percentage of the remaining time. That’s alright. He’s much better off where he is.”
The effect on the presidential race if Trump invokes the insurrection law will be a wash. Since about 90 percent of the country has made up its mind about Trump already, most voters will interpret Trump’s invoking of the act through well-established partisan prisms. They will see it either as a typical Trump reaction or more evidence that the president wants to be a dictator. It will barely register in either support or opposition in the polls.