Donald Trump defended his visit to Kenosha, Wisconsin, as he prepared to board his aircraft on Tuesday afternoon, saying that he would ease tensions in the wake of protests following the police shooting of Jacob Blake.
Mr Trump has come under fire from Democrats over his decision to visit the city, where demonstrators have taken to the streets after Mr Blake, a black man, was shot seven times by a white police officer.
The president has also been criticised for refusing to condemn Kyle Rittenhouse, a 17-year old Trump supporter who was charged with homicide after two protesters were fatally shot in Kenosha.
“I think it’s helping because I’m about law and order,” Mr Trump said as he prepared to fly to Kenosha on Tuesday.
Critics have accused Mr Trump of inflaming racial tensions by portraying those protesting against police violence as anarchists, even though most of the demonstrations have been peaceful.
Tony Evers, the Democratic governor of Wisconsin, and John Antaramian, the Democratic mayor of Kenosha, have both urged Mr Trump to cancel his visit owing to fears that his presence could inflame tensions.
As he left Washington, Mr Trump called Mr Antaramian a “very stupid mayor” for his response to the unrest sparked by the shooting of Mr Blake. Mr Trump said “only a fool would stick up” for the protesters.
Mr Trump’s response to the situation in Kenosha has echoes of his reaction to the anti-racism protests that broke out earlier this year following the death of George Floyd, a black man who died after a police officer knelt on his neck.
Mr Trump made clear in his speech to the Republican convention last week that he intends to campaign on a version of the “law and order” platform that was a hallmark of the 2016 presidential race and the 2018 midterms.
Instead of targeting Hispanic immigrants as he did in 2016 and 2018, Mr Trump is now focusing on the anti-racism protesters in an effort to appeal to suburban voters who are fearful.
He has accused Joe Biden, his Democratic rival, of being weak on crime. Mr Biden on Monday hit back at Mr Trump for inflaming racial tensions with his rhetoric, while strongly condemning protests that have become violent.
Defending his visit to Kenosha, Mr Trump said he was “really going to say hello to law enforcement and the National Guard”, which have been deployed to respond to the unrest.
He said he did not know if he would meet the family of Mr Blake, who remains paralysed following the shooting.
The president’s Wisconsin visit comes as he and Mr Biden prepare for the final stretch of the 2020 race. Wisconsin will be one of the critical swing states in November. Mr Trump pulled off an upset victory over Hillary Clinton there in 2016, but currently trails Mr Biden by 3.5 points in the polls.
Follow Demetri Sevastopulo on Twitter: @dimi