The RNC Can't Figure Out Where It Stands on Criminal Justice Reform

Sen. Tim Scott (R–S.C.) criticizes Joe Biden's record on mass incarceration.


Speakers at the first night of the 2020 Republican National Convention tried to navigate two competing messages on the criminal justice system. One was that Joe Biden was an architect of mass incarceration and lock-em-up policies, which Donald Trump rightfully rolled back. The other message was that only Republicans will stand up for police and the law.

Sen. Tim Scott (R–S.C.), the only black Republican in the Senate, assailed Joe Biden for his role in the 1994 crime bill and creating sentencing disparities between crack and powder cocaine.

"Trump fixed many of the disparities that Biden created and made our system more fair and just for all Americans," Scott said, referring to the passage of the 2018 FIRST STEP Act.

Georgia Democrat Vernon Jones, venturing into hyperbole, claimed that Trump "ended once and for all the policy of incarceration of black people." (Although the legislation did result in the release of several thousand federal inmates, it did not abolish the federal prison system, Reason regrets to report.)

But at the same time that speakers were lauding Trump for criminal justice reforms that rolled back some of the laws that Biden helped pass, they were making constant references to riots, violent criminals being let loose on the street, and the threat of antifa mobs coming to your suburban neighborhood once the Marxist Democrats defund the police.

Trump's son, Donald Trump, Jr., said that "what happened to George Floyd was a disgrace."

However, Trump, Jr., continued: "We can not lose sight of the fact that police are American heroes. They deserve our appreciation. No matter what Democrats say, we know that when we call 911 we don't want our call to go to voicemail. Defunding the police is not an option."

Backing the blue has been one of the centerpieces of Trump's "LAW AND ORDER!" reelection campaign. Trump's campaign released a 2nd term agenda Sunday night, seeking to put to rest questions of what exactly, if anything, the president and Republicans stand for. The list of about 50 bullet points includes five under the heading "Defend Our Police."

  • Fully Fund and Hire More Police and Law Enforcement Officers
  • Increase Criminal Penalties for Assaults on Law Enforcement Officers
  • Prosecute Drive-By Shootings as Acts of Domestic Terrorism
  • Bring Violent Extremist Groups Like ANTIFA to Justice
  • End Cashless Bail and Keep Dangerous Criminals Locked Up until Trial

The Republican Party decided to forgo releasing a party platform this year, instead simply saying it supports Trump's agenda. So this thin gruel, along with speeches at this week's RNC, are what constitute the Republican positions on criminal justice.

The section on bail is the most interesting, if confusing. States and counties control their own bail policies. It's unclear what, if anything, the Trump administration could do about it. Criminal justice reform advocates across the country have fought cash bail in recent years, most notably and controversially in New York. Republicans have latched on to those efforts to ban cash bail, which traps poor people in jail based simply on their inability to pay, to say that Democrats want to let dangerous criminals out of jail—never mind the presumption of innocence.

Although it will probably come to nothing but more culture war fodder, the inclusion of a pro-cash bail item in Trump's 2nd term agenda is a clearer sign of the Trump administration's priorities on criminal justice than a bill signed two years ago.

NEXT: The First Night of the RNC Offered a Full-Throated Defense of School Choice

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77 responses to “The RNC Can't Figure Out Where It Stands on Criminal Justice Reform

  1. Vernon Jones was a former CEO of my county, the white minority Land of Cynthia McKinney and Hank Johnson.

    He vetoed a unanimous county commission-passed ban on smoking in bars arguing for private property and freedom of association rights. When caught in a "sex scandal" his spokesman told the AJC and other ATL media "it wasn't rape...it was 3-way sex gone bad"!

    Vernon Jones has been my (only) favorite Democrat since the Soviet Union shot down and killed Congressman Larry McDonald.

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  2. It’s all so confusing. Biden and the democrats love mass incarceration and foreign wars. Trump does not. So go big on the TDS because you didn’t get open borders.

    1. Whatever, as long as you fascist pieces of shit agree that mass incarceration is evil.

      1. You keep using that word, I don't think it means what you think it means.

        1. I'd bet he doesn't know the meaning of a lot of words.

          1. right i'm all "which ones?" lol

      2. Do you ever get tired of using the overplayed propaganda lines?

      3. It depends on what the masses incarcerated did.
        If they just used an unapproved drug that's not really that dangerous, it's evil to keep them locked up.
        If they burned buildings and assaulted police officers and broke windows and doors and stole stuff, it's long overdue to lock them up en masse.

    2. To be fair, CJ doesn't know where he stands on criminal justice reform either. Dude was pissed that Roger Stone didn't get seven years in prison for lying to the FBI for something that wasn't a crime.

      Not to mention that anyone who supports men with guns enforcing bathroom policies cannot turn around and say they believe in criminal justice reform.

  3. Just because you don't want to give a vandal or looter twenty years without parole doesn't mean you want to let him off Scot-free.

    In contrast, the woke crowd (not that it matters, because they're totally marginal in the Democratic Party - /sarc) would like some crimes *not* to be punished at all. Social-justice crimes done by the right people, *to* the right people, for the right reasons.

    1. What do you mean "would like" to not be punished at all? An actual DA in an actual city (Portland, Oregon) is refusing to prosecute. His own state police told him to shove off and left town to go where the criminals they apprehend are actually charged with crimes.

  4. CJ, this is super easy, since you seem to be having trouble:

    1) If a person harms property or life of another, lock them up.
    2) If a person commits a victimless (c.f. drug) crime, don't lock them up.

    Now I know that Trump isn't steering exactly that pure a course, but clearly you can see how one can embrace the magical power of BOTH. I can be firm and unyielding on crimes with victims while advocating a soft touch on drugs or other victimless crimes.

    What is hilarious is that we get all sorts of policies and actions and talk from our politicians. But for some reason CJ wants to judge the GOP more on their "talk" than their actions. Hmmm.

    1. It is more than Trump just wanting to be tough on property crime though. It is Trump trying to have it both ways: he is the "criminal justice reformer" while simultaneously wanting to create victimless crimes that are the whole reason now for the need for criminal justice reform. He wants to ban flag burning, he wants to expand the definition of "domestic terrorist" to absurd lengths, etc.

      1. Nevermind. Was going to quibble with your assertion about domestic terror, but feel it is t worth the effort.

      2. Seems pretty simple. Let's just go off of their record.

        Did Biden pass criminal justice reform? Did Kamala? Did Trump?

        People continue to want to give Dems the benefit of the doubt, but not to Reps. It's fine if you're a partisan- just admit it.

      3. so drive by shootings and organized property destruction and blocking critical infrastructure are not domestic terrorism?

        1. Reason writers were harsher on people protesting against government shutdowns than they have been on rioters. It's the NYT that sets the agenda- they just regurgitate it.

    2. I agree. We need to lock up people that harm others, and not lock up those who don't, even though it seems Democrats really do go for civil asset forfeiture, policing for profit, and making laws against voluntary exchange such as selling single cigarettes the late Eric Garner would be complaining about if he didn't die from his police encounter because he was helping satisfy smokers' need for cigarette.

      "... it did not abolish the federal prison system, Reason regrets to report."

      Sad to see such a ridiculous, juvenile and unserious statement in Reason, and attributed to the magazine as a whole, rather than a statement from the author. We've got the BATF, DEA, FBI, ICE IRS and the Secret Service enforcing federal crimes. Federal crimes also ninclude (per Wikipedia) mail fraud, aircraft hijacking, carjacking, kidnapping, lynching, bank robbery, child pornography, credit card fraud, identity theft, computer crimes, federal hate crimes, animal cruelty, violations of the Federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), obscenity, tax evasion, counterfeiting, violations of the Espionage Act, violations of the Patriot Act, illegal wiretapping, art theft from a museum, damaging or destroying public mailboxes, electoral fraud, immigration offenses, and since 1965 in the aftermath of President John F. Kennedy's assassination, assassinating or attempting assassination of the President or Vice President.

      What do CJ, and Reason apparently, suggest for violations of these crimes (ok, some shouldn't exist such as the drug laws)?

      I'll give CJ credit for mentioning the 2018 First Step Act, which is obviously a GOP position, enacted into law, regarding criminal justice reform. Which is the big problem with CJ's article. There's always some tension between the desire of people to be protected from those who'd harm them, the desire to not make mistakes in going after criminals and harming innocent people in the process, and between giving police sufficient power to investigate, find and arrest criminals, without harming innocent people. I agree with cash bail, and that the bail shouldn't be onerous but sufficient to get defendants to show up for trial - but this wouldn't be a problem if we didn't have a bunch of laws making criminals out of people who don't harm others. We shouldn't advocate to eliminate bail, we should advocate to remove victimless crime laws from the books.

      A big problem with the article is it's lack of balance. Where do the Democrats stand on reform? I'm far more confused about what Democrat politicians support. I've seen one Democrat state legislator reform qualified immunity in Colorado, and police misconduct records release in NY (can CJ even report on actual reform?). But it seems Democrats have no issue with rioters and looters, that slip into protests, so they let them riot and loot. CJ could have contrasted the GOP and Democrats' actions (positions are as good as "You can keep your plan", actions matter) on reform.

      1. "A big problem with the article is it’s lack of balance. Where do the Democrats stand on reform? "

        Simple. The democrats want to lock up people based on political beliefs rather than race. Or worse than lock them up; "just" deny them the right to have a job and feed their families, without all that bothersome nonsense of facts and due process. Nothing says fairness and equality like a twitter mob.

      2. " Democrats really do go for civil asset forfeiture, policing for profit, and making laws against voluntary exchange such as selling single cigarettes the late Eric Garner would be complaining about if he didn’t die from his police encounter because he was helping satisfy smokers’ need for cigarette. "

        It's all about the revenues. And COVID has given Democrats yet another--unexpected, probably--revenue stream from mask mandate infractions with $1000 fines, $2000 fines for refusing to provide details about your personal travel plans (NY state), etc.

      3. It's like the picture of criminal justice is on a TV on which you can adjust the brightness but not the contrast. You can have more cops, more criminals, and more jail, or less. You can't make distinctions between the criminals.

        Too much crime? OK, put more people in jail. Just anybody, it doesn't matter.

  5. Trump has a few token cases where he let black people out of jail early so he could try to get some Kardashian booty, but overall he’s way worse on criminal justice than Biden and Harris.

    And let’s not forget, he started the policy of putting children who came from Mexico into cages to rile up his racist base.

    1. OBL is still better at this than you.

      1. At least he admits that Democrats use "Tokens" they let off the plantations early to stump for the Party of slavery.

      2. A lot better.

    2. Seems like Harris locked up plenty of people who harmed no one. And Biden may talk better, but Trump actually made some real improvements.

      1. Harris especially liked locking up the innocent - or protecting the bad prosecutors and cops who did.

  6. The RNC Can't Figure Out Where It Stands on Criminal Justice Reform

    Oh, my, there is a diversity of opinions on a complex subject at the RNC! The horror!

    Obviously, the correct way to proceed is the DNC way: conduct polling with tendentious language, then push the set of policies that polls best, even if they don't work and are inconsistent with each other! It's the way of the Democrats!

    1. Oh, my, there is a diversity of opinions on a complex subject at the RNC! The horror!

      Unlike "The Left" where we all know that they are a monolithic hive mind who all support Marxism and hate America.

      1. We're talking about RNC vs DNC. And the DNC has a plan and an answer for all major social and economic issues. Read their platform. It's an essential part of the left's ideology.

        1. " an answer for all major social and economic issues."

          And the answer is ALWAYS higher taxes and more free stuff for their base.

    2. The Dem way is to blame the 4th year Republican President for mismanaging the 5th decade run Democrat cities, then call the President out for "inconsistency" if he actually makes progress on something they just talked about for 8 years.

  7. two competing messages on the criminal justice system.
    ...Donald Trump rolled back (mass incarceration and lock-em-up policies).
    ...only Republicans will stand up for police and the law.

    For fuck sake, Ciaramella.
    Those aren't competing messages. That's how it's supposed to work.
    An ideal justice system will ensure mass incarceration and lock-em-up policies do not happen, that laws are just and effective, and that police are supported if they capably fulfill their duties.

    If you just wrote orangemanbad at least it wouldn't have sounded quite so stupid.

    1. It's almost painful that anyone thinks that these two issues are related in such a way. I mean, to think that you have to support mass incarceration if you stand up for police and the law is just mind numbingly stupid.

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  9. C'mon, man, don't be giving CJ a hard time, writing about the GOP convention is his job and he's required to watch at least some of it, he can't just ignore it and treat it as hot air, fluff, and nonsense like the rest of us.

    1. Yes, to be fair, CJ and Boehm had to do their hot takes before they could see which way the narrative winds are blowing.

      I look forward to what the take from ENB will be this morning. My guess is something along the lines of, "Ew, those icky Republicans acted like they are diverse, when we know they are really racist" or more likely "They talked about these things but we know they really are as bad as the Democrats".

      1. You called it.

        "an aggressive show of faux-normalcy, mixed with unhinged praise for Dear Leader, fanfic about his administration, and absolutely insane fearmongering about how Democrats will turn the suburbs into Mad Max."

        She can't help herself.

  10. You are right! Being in favor of cri.inal justice reform is completely incompatible with opposing burning down businesses in minority neighborhoods! If you support a fair and just system, you have to support allowing Antifa and BLM activists who commit arson and assault to go free from prosecution.

  11. "Backing the blue has been one of the centerpieces of Trump's "LAW AND ORDER!" reelection campaign."

    When only five out of fifty points are about law and order, as opposed to seven each on jobs and healthcare, I'm not sure the scary capitalization and exclamation point are quite called for.

    1. I know, right? That's just the lamestream media hating Trump for putting LAW AND ORDER in ALL CAPS when it totally doesn't deserve it, right?


  12. The false narrative is that you are either for or against the police. That you are either for or against the protests/riots. Nuance is key to these questions and should not be treated as a Hobson's Choice. You can be for protests, but against the riots and like wise for the police, but against bad policing.

    What needs to be eliminated is all the virtue signaling and hijacking of the very real concerns and drive to address real issues with any political agenda.

    1) Qualified immunity should be eliminated. All laws should apply equally to everyone including government officials and employees. No one should be above the law (including Donald Trump, Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi, Kevin McCarthy, Mitch McConnell, Chuck Schumer, John Roberts, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, including all current and past elected officials, bureaucrats, etc...)

    2) Civil Asset Forfeiture should only be allowed, if a person is charged, found guilty, sentenced and it has been proven in a court of law that the asset was purchased with illegal funds or ruled that the assets need to be sold to compensate the victim of a violent crime. The assets should never go the prop up the funding of government or government agency.

    3) Eliminate victimless crimes. If there isn't a victim then there really isn't a crime.

    Neither the Democrats or the Republicans know how to position themselves other than to virtue signal to their base and what the perceive what they want. The democrats basically have dominated the majority of urban cities for multiple decades.

    In Minneapolis where the George Floyd incident occurred, the Democrats hold nearly every seat with the exception being one Green Party member of city council. The Democrats should be completely held to task as there has not been a Republican mayor since Mayor (FOR ONE DAY) Richard Erdall on December 31, 1973.

    Instead of address the concerns of policing, the Democrat Party dominated city council decided to virtue signal and present a Hobson's Choice. They are preceding with eliminating the police, while hiring private protection for themselves. Meanwhile there is an increased amount of violence within the communities hardest hit.

    This is the same scenario across the country where many Democrat Party dominated cities are in turmoil. Where peaceful citizens are subjected to the violent actions of rioters and incidents of bad policing (typically reacting to rioters, although some protestors get caught up in the mix).

    The reality is that a civil society needs to have policing of some sort. However it is best if the scope of policing is limited to protecting life, liberty and property.

    1. Well said. A libertarian publication could then look at each party, what they present at their respective conventions, and compare and contrast the two if and when they offer specifics matching or conflicting with what you have stated.

      An actual comparison of both sides, as opposed to the so much more typical "both sides" bullshit we get around here.

      1. Exactly.

        Libertarians can assess the changes needed with criminal justice without any "blood on our hands".

        Libertarians are okay with tiny and limited government including some police, prisons, and courts as a necessary evil. That system has proven to work as the best system known.

  13. Am I the only one here who actually read the article?

    Sorry but "criminal justice reform" and "banning flag burning" don't go together. Trump is trying to have it both ways - pander to his base with his LAWN ORDER schtick while at the same time trying to appear more virtuous than Biden by signing the criminal justice reform bill that he did. It is just the Trump campaign version of BLUE TEAM BAD that is all.

    Team Blue is bad for supporting a flawed crime bill from 25 years ago.
    Team Blue is also bad for not going further than the crime bill from 25 years ago and supporting LAWN ORDER as only Trump can.

    1. You are technically correct, which is the best kind of correct. Banning flag burning is definitely a step in the wrong direction.

      It also will never happen. It is clearly and unequivocally protected speech. It isn't even a close call. This is as decisis as stare decisis gets.

      So it is just empty rhetoric.

      Everything else in your post is just plain stupid though. Obama was president for 8 years with Biden as his #2. They never did anything to make criminal justice more fair - and did plenty to move things in the other direction. There are loads of examples, but let's just pick Operation Choke Point for a good example - completely unconstitutional and entirely intended to punish and excommunicate from society people who are involved in perfectly legal businesses. That is what Biden stood for when he had the chance.

      Complain about Trump all you want, but he's not even a rounding error on the evils of the Obama administration, not even on his worst day. A tweet is not the equivalent of actual executive action.

      1. No, banning flag burning won't happen anytime soon, I agree. But the issue here isn't whether it is likely to happen or not, it is to assess Trump's claims on whether he ought to be regarded as a "criminal justice reformer". Trump's position here is basically "let me take credit for this criminal justice reform bill that I signed while simultaneously proposing ideas that would fill the prisons back up again with people who committed victimless crimes". It's like if a person proposed legalizing weed but then simultaneously proposed making it a capital offense to smoke crack. Is that person really a "drug law reformer"?

        And the rest is just making my point for me. Team Blue is criticized simultaneously for not being tough enough on crime, AND for being too tough on crime.

        1. No, banning flag burning won’t happen anytime soon, I agree.

          So, your grievance is that although he has actually done good things, he's taken the wrong stance on an issue that will never actually happen.

          This makes sense to you?

        2. The people who rightly oppose criminalizing flag burning also want to send men with guns to enforce bathroom policies that they agree with. How does that conform at all with "criminal justice reform"?

      2. Yeah, that Operation Choke Point was a blatant effort to legislate against certain types of businesses without actually legislating. They basically just came out and said they considered certain lines of business sleazy but didn't have the votes to criminalize or even restrict them. I'm trying to remember...guns, short term loans and similar penny ante financial services, I forgot what else.

    2. "Am I the only one here who actually read the article?

      Sorry but “criminal justice reform” and “banning flag burning” don’t go together."

      Not only does your quoted phrase "banning flag burning" not appear in the article that you claim to have read, but none of the individual words even appears in the article.

  14. unreason doesnt not care to understand what Conservatism is or how the GOP works.

    noun: conservatism
    1. commitment to traditional values and ideas with opposition to change or innovation.
    2. the holding of political views that favor free enterprise, private ownership, and socially conservative ideas.

    That never meant that Conservatives and/or Republicans were against drug legalization or altering the criminal justice system.

    The key is that there needs to be near universal support for that change. There is massive support to reign in government excesses, lessen drug punishments, and revamp the criminal justice system.

    The Lefties push a Narrative that Republicans hate Black Americans. Lincoln was a REPUBLICAN and had the Union fight to end slavery.

  15. Another example of the Democrat's outflanking Trump on the right. Perhaps criminal justice is the only area where the Democrats are doing it, but it seems to be working. There are reports of dozens of GOP stalwarts supporting Biden.

    1. >>Democrat’s outflanking Trump on the right

      super-soakers full of wite-out required to erase Biden's Law

      1. If Democrats had gone with someone from the left like Sanders, they wouldn't be picking up all this support from disaffected Republicans. With Sanders, victory against Trump was still a distinct possibility, but Trump's charges of the Democrats being socialists would have more than a ring of truth to it.A victory might also be the swan song of the old guard anti socialist democrats like Clinton, Biden, Obama etc.

  16. Speakers at the first night of the 2020 Republican National Convention tried to navigate two competing messages on the criminal justice system. One was that Joe Biden was an architect of mass incarceration and lock-em-up policies, which Donald Trump rightfully rolled back. The other message was that only Republicans will stand up for police and the law.

    This seems to be implying a false dichotomy. It's possible to be against mass incarceration - in particular the War on Drugs and mandatory minimum sentencing - and also against rioting, looting, property damage, burning shit down, etc. and in favor of rule of law. It's not one or the other.

    1. " It’s possible to be against mass incarceration – in particular the War on Drugs and mandatory minimum sentencing – and also against rioting, looting, property damage, burning shit down, etc. and in favor of rule of law."

      It's also possible to conflate them. Which is what the Democrats will do if they are smart. They want to weaken Trump's hold on the right. Our cities are burning and Trump's response is to release masses of sex starved dope smoking blacks back on to them.

      1. First the Dems would have to admit that the cities are burning.

        1. They don't need to admit anything. Let the imagery do the talking.

          1. And yet they keep downplaying the rioting, lootong, and arson.

            1. It's Trump they are running against. Not rioters, looters or arsonists. Making this election a referendum on Trump's popularity and fitness to rule is the wise move. The less focus on issues of substance, the better. It really shouldn't surprise you that the Dems are downplaying chaos in the streets and so on.

  17. One was that Joe Biden was an architect of mass incarceration and lock-em-up policies, which Donald Trump rightfully rolled back. The other message was that only Republicans will stand up for police and the law.

    Sorry, but these are not "competing messages". Standing up for police and the law does not automatically equate to mass incarceration. Locking up a convicted criminal does not mean Bidenesque 25-year sentences for simple possession. And there's no question that the new Dems do not care about law.

    1. Has any American politician of any party lost an election over their zealousness in putting people in prison?

  18. Sen. Tim Scott (R–S.C.), the only black Republican in the Senate

    Let's see Biden figure out that paradox.

    1. As opposed to the only black Democrat in the Senate?

      1. Technically two: Booker and Kamala.

        But, I have faith that if John James wins a Senate seat in Michigan, CJ will default to the NYT style guide and say "one of only two black Republicans in the Senate".

        1. Booker is whiter than I am.

          1. You just pulled a "CJ". What the fuck is going on here? If someone says they're black and your eyes tell you they're black, in what world does anyone have the authority to declare them "not black"?

            1. what does anyone's eyes have to do with it?

              >>in what world does anyone have the authority to declare them “not black”?

              same world the authority exists to declare one's self black

  19. "Sen. Tim Scott (R–S.C.), the only black Republican in the Senate,"

    It's not like the Democrats are ahead of that by much, with only two black Democrats in the Senate.

    1. CJ is just recycling the NYT opinion pages, as always.

  20. Seems pretty clear to me where they stand:
    making real progress on criminal justice reform (while the Dems were all talk), and enforcing law and order in our cities (which the Dems refuse to do).

  21. those concepts are not counter-intuitive.

  22. Is Mr. Ciaramella trying to say that you can't be against jailing the wrong people while favoring jailing the right people?

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