Hillary Rodham Clinton focused her presidential campaign Wednesday on the unrest in Baltimore, vowing to work to upend the criminal justice system by ending the “era of mass incarceration” and equipping every police officer on the street with a body camera....Now, you'd imagine we're in the process of reaching a consensus on the need for criminal justice reform -- after all, Republicans as well as Democrats are saying reform is necessary:
The sentencing reforms Clinton will champion focus on nonviolent offenders. She said they will include shifting people found guilty of such drug crimes from lockups to treatment and rehabilitation programs. Other alternative punishments would also be explored for low-level offenders, particularly minors, a Clinton campaign aide said....
“We have allowed our criminal justice system to get out of balance,” she said. “These recent tragedies should galvanize us to come together as a nation to find our balance again.”
Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Senator Ted Cruz and Senator Rand Paul want to ease mandatory minimum sentences. Gov. Chris Christie wants to release nonviolent offenders pending trial without bail. Gov. Scott Walker, former Gov. Rick Perry and former Senator James Webb want to expand drug treatment as an alternative to prison. Senator Marco Rubio wants to make it harder to convict federal defendants without proving intent....But we've been through this sort of thing before. Remember, in the middle of the last decade, the need for health care reform seemed so obvious that a Republican governor, Mitt Romney, signed a universal coverage bill, clearly intending to run for president as the guy who got all the residents of his state insured. But by the time he was the Republican nominee for president, he had developed an unquenchable hatred for the national program that mimicked the one in his state, as had nearly every Republican in America. If Democrats were for slightly modified Romneycare, Republicans were against it.
The extent of that change is made evident in a new book [the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University’s School of Law] has compiled featuring essays by many of the major presidential candidates laying out ideas for tackling the criminal justice system. Mrs. Clinton and her Democratic rivals approach the issue from a social justice perspective, while Republicans like Mr. Cruz, Mr. Perry, Mr. Paul and Mr. Rubio see it through a fiscal, libertarian or religious lens, but they share a consensus about the goal.
Similarly, not long ago, Democrats began expressing support for cap-and-trade as a response to climate change.
Or remember cap-and-trade? The climate change response John McCain and Sarah Palin supported in 2008? It was a conservative idea -- but once Democrats began to support it, Republicans turned against it.
This happens all the time. (Remember how Republicans demanded Bowe Bergdahl's release until President Obama actually got him released, then howled in fury because they'd suddenly concluded that Bergdahl was a traitor?) So why shouldn't we expect it to happen again on crime?
Ed Kilgore is concerned, especially in the wake of Baltimore's unrest:
... Republicans everywhere may be tempted to exploit the reflexive support for police officers among white citizens that is beginning to exhibit itself everywhere black protests arise. As John Judis observed at National Journal this week, the likely election of Dan Donovan--the prosecutor who appeared to work hard to avoid any grand jury indictment of the cops who killed Eric Garner--to Congress in Staten Island next Tuesday may signal a new era of racial backlash, battening on conservative anxieties already aroused by the years of attacks on Obama and manufactured fears of his supposed mania for “redistribution.”Kilgore isn't sure the GOP's newfound empathy for the detained, accused, and incarcerated will last, especially when many of them are people of color. I'm skeptical as well.
If there is a supply of backlash voters, there will certainly be a demand, if only among the crowded GOP presidential field where the candidates will soon run out of ways to demonstrate their True Conservatism. The more historically minded of them may realize that St. Ronald Reagan himself built his California political career on a foundation of backlash to rioters, albeit student radicals more than African-Americans per se.