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May 21, 2016

Despite a quarter-century being "tough," Hillary Clinton still attacked by Donald Trump as soft-on-violent-crime

As regular readers surely know, the "Clinton record" on crime and punishment issues has many elements and nuances.  See, e.g., this post from last month titled "The many challenges of a fully nuanced understanding of the Clintons, crime, punishment and the 1994 Crime Bill."  That said, one can still generally summarize the Clintons in general, and Hillary Clinton in particular, as having been significantly "tougher" than nearly all other Democrats and even tougher than a great many GOP elected officials over the last quarter century on a long list of sentencing issues ranging from the death penalty to mass incarceration to juvenile punishments to federal crack sentencing.

But Donald Trump has used the 2016 election season to demostrate time and time again that a lengthy past record can matter a heck of a lot less than a catchphrase and fiery rhetoric, and thus I was not surprised to see this New York Times headline emerge after Trump's speech yesterday to the NRA: "Donald Trump Tells N.R.A. Hillary Clinton Wants to Let Violent Criminals Go Free." Here is the context and basis for this headline:

“Crooked Hillary Clinton is the most anti-gun, anti-Second Amendment candidate ever to run for office,” he said. Mrs. Clinton has called for tightened restrictions on guns, but not for abolishing the right to own them.

Mr. Trump, whose record of sexist remarks, among other things, has left him at a potentially crippling disadvantage among female voters, polls show, appealed directly to women in his speech, imbuing his defense of gun rights with an undercurrent of fear.

“In trying to overturn the Second Amendment, Hillary Clinton is telling everyone — and every woman living in a dangerous community — that she doesn’t have the right to defend herself,” Mr. Trump said. “So you have a woman living in a community, a rough community, a bad community — sorry, you can’t defend yourself.”

If Mr. Trump’s comments seemed reminiscent of an era when crime rates were far higher — the Willie Horton ads attacking Michael S. Dukakis, the Democratic nominee, in the 1988 presidential race came to mind — they also appeared somewhat at odds with the broad bipartisan consensus on the need to reduce incarceration rates and prison populations: Mr. Trump sought to frighten voters about the idea of criminals being released from prison.

He said Mrs. Clinton’s agenda was “to release the violent criminals from jail,” freeing them to roam the streets and put “innocent Americans at risk.” He even tried out a new epithet for Mrs. Clinton: “heartless Hillary.”

I consider to be Donald Trump to be an especially shrewd political figure because he seems to have stronger instincts than a number of other GOP figures as to how best to refine the rhetorical packaging of social issues in ways that can energize the GOP base without unduly locking himself into positions from which he can effectively pivot when seeking to appeal to more moderate and independent voters. Talking about women needing the Second Amendment as a means to have access to guns for self-defense in urban areas shows off his political deftness, as does his eagerness to assert (without any firm basis) that Hillary Clinton wants to release "violent criminals."  By including the term "violent" here, Trump will still be able to eventually express support for some "non-violent" sentencing reforms.

(For the record, I expect that in an effort to make nice with various members of the GOP estabishment in Congress, Trump will at some point in the next few months express some support for some modest federal drug sentencing, civil forfeiture, and mens rea reforms.  In the wake of this NRA speech, I would expect Trump, aided by crime-and-punishment-focused folks on his team like Senator Jeff Session and Chris Christie, to eventually say the federal government can and should follow the lead of reform-oriented southern states like Texas and Georgia, but do so only after we take steps to address illegal immigration and eliminate federal gun restrictions (and perhaps ramp up the federal death penalty).  In this context, I find notable this recent Washington Examiner commentary authored by Grover Norquist and Adam Brandon which carries the headline "Congress' new bills show how conservatives are still tough on crime."  This headline suggests that conservatives are coming to see that they can and likely need to preserve their "tough-on-crime" brand as part of efforts to promote sentencing reforms.)

A few prior related posts:

May 21, 2016 at 02:20 PM | Permalink


What are Trump's views on "felons" and misdemeanors violators having firearms?

Posted by: Joe | May 21, 2016 3:40:27 PM

Excellent question, Joe.

Posted by: Doug B. | May 22, 2016 10:36:58 AM

Donald Trump's statements are not based on facts or reason, and the media should stop pretending like they might be. If he says something that makes sense, it is by accident or purely a matter of chance, like seeing a coin flip five heads in a row.

Posted by: C.E. | May 22, 2016 4:52:42 PM

At 5:49 AM on 21 May 2016 Trump tweeted: "Crooked Hillary wants to get rid of all guns and yet she is surrounded by bodyguards who are fully armed. No more guns to protect Hillary!"

Hillary's troll army cluelessly rose to the bait, claiming that it was plainly obvious to anyone with any sense that she needed Secret Service bodyguards for self-protection. Some even went so far as to describe this tweet as a threat justifying a Secret Service investigation. Then they all went silent, recognizing that Trump had trolled them. Regular people don't need guns for self-protection, do they?

I am not endorsing him nor will I vote for him. However, sometimes he has a very sharp eye for what divides us. The very rich have no intention of giving of their guns. They consider it perfectly reasonable to be protected by a bevy of retired Tier 1 special operators, who are armed with the most modern weapons. They can afford it.

To bring this around to what we usually discuss here, Trump doesn't care about the difference between felonies and misdemeanors as disqualifiers as Joe asks above. This is nothing but very skillful political persuasion.

Posted by: Fred | May 23, 2016 1:44:39 PM

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