Donald Trump has chided his Democratic opponent Joe Biden for visiting Kenosha, Wisconsin, on Thursday, where the former vice president met with the family of Jacob Blake, the 29-year-old man who was shot in the back seven times by local police.
The president also doubled down on his suggestion that Americans try to vote twice, which is illegal, if they are worried their mail-in ballots will not be counted.
At a rally in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, Mr Trump bragged that he had been to Kenosha two days before to survey the damage inflicted upon local businesses by violent pockets of protesters who looted, burned and threw projectiles at shops.
"Biden went there today. There was nobody there," Mr Trump said.
"He was a little late. I was gonna say, 'Hey, listen, we ended that problem,'" the president said, referring to his decision to send in the National Guard at the request of Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers to help quell riotous behaviour.
Mr Trump's declaration that he "ended that problem" in Kenosha provides a window into how he views a national moment marked by acute racial tensions and deep-seated distrust between minority communities and law enforcement.
Namely, that his chief objective is to crush violent elements at anti-police brutality protests around the country, without necessarily addressing the underlying pleas of the vast, peaceful majorities calling for policing reform.
“Biden's plan is to appease the domestic terrorists. My plan is to arrest them and prosecute them,” Mr Trump said at the rally, noting that the Justice Department has now arrested roughly 400 people involved in street riots this summer.
While Mr Biden has primarily focused his campaign messaging surrounding the protests on listening to black voices and reforming the operations of police departments around the country, he has taken a more aggressive tone denouncing the pockets of violence on the streets of US cities such as Kenosha and Portland, Oregon.
"I condemn violence of every kind by anyone, whether on the left or the right. And I challenge Donald Trump to do the same," Mr Biden said in a lengthy statement earlier this week.
Millions of Americans have taken to the streets this summer to protest against the US law enforcement system after the high-profile deaths in police custody of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Breonna Taylor in Louisville, and others.
Mr Blake, whose family Mr Biden visited on Thursday, was paralysed from the waist down after being shot by an officer last month.
Polls, polls, polls
The survey put Mr Biden 8 percentage points ahead of the president overall, 50-42, just outside the margin of error.
Mr Biden was trusted by more voters on the two issues dominating the campaign at this stage — the coronavirus pandemic, and policing and criminal justice, the Fox News poll found. He led the president by a 17-point margin on the former (52-35 per cent), and had a five point lead on the latter (47-42 per cent).
Mr Trump insisted at his rally on Thursday that his standing among voters had received a post-Republican National Convention bump, despite the RealClearPolitics average for the last week showing him 7.2 percentage points underwater nationally.
The president dismissed those public surveys as "fake polls" and proclaimed that his internal campaign polling portended trouble for Mr Biden.
"You know, they're called suppression polls. They're meant to make you depressed. Are you depressed? You don't look depressed," Mr Trump said, pointing to a person in the delighted audience.
"We have the real numbers. We're leading everywhere. We are leading everywhere,” he said.
Doubling down on voting twice
At the rally, Mr Trump refused to back down on his comments from the previous night urging Americans to try to vote twice — once by mail, and again in person — if they were concerned someone might tamper with their mail-in ballots.
"Sign your mail in ballot, okay? You sign it. And send it in. And then you have to follow it. And if on Election Day or early voting that is not tabulated and counted, you go vote," the president told his supporters in Pennsylvania.
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany sought to clarify earlier on Thursday that when Mr Trump tells voters to "go vote" in person, he means they should go cast provisional ballots in case their mail-in ballots get tossed.
Mr Trump has not made such a distinction in his own speeches.
Biden hits back
Mr Biden renewed his criticism of Mr Trump's handling of race relations in the US over the course of his administration on Thursday, saying the president's comments after a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017 "exposed what had not been paid enough attention to, the underlying racism that has been institutionalised" in the US.
The 2020 Democratic nominee said he had been inspired to re-enter public office following the president's "very fine people" remarks after the Charlottesville episode, referring to demonstrations that included neo-Nazi groups and far-right violence against counter-protesters.
"No president has ever said anything like it," the former vice president said at Grace Lutheran Church in Kenosha on Thursday.
"It legitimises the dark side of human nature," he said of Mr Trump.