But he defended another of his supporters, Kyle H. Rittenhouse, 17, who showed up at a protest in Kenosha armed with a military-style rifle and has been charged with homicide after two demonstrators were shot and killed, suggesting the teenager acted in self-defense. “I guess he was in very big trouble,” Mr. Trump said. “He probably would have been killed.”
The strategy is consistent with the president’s lifetime of provocation. From his time as a celebrity real estate developer, Mr. Trump has never been a conciliator, and he has long gravitated toward conflict and sought to escalate it. As president, he often plays to and amplifies racial divisions in the country.
He blurred the distinction between white supremacists and their opponents in Charlottesville, Va., in 2017, and a year later, he issued dire warnings about caravans of immigrants invading the United States just before the 2018 midterm election.
Mr. Trump and his advisers have grown especially energized in recent days as they have pressed the law-and-order issue and claimed credit when Mr. Biden and the Democrats have addressed the matter more vocally. A smattering of public polls have shown the race tightening since the Republican National Convention last week, when Mr. Trump presented a highly dramatic and exaggerated portrait of a country in chaos because of “the radical left.” Still, Mr. Biden retains a six-point lead in two national surveys.
Trump campaign officials insisted their internal polling shows a tighter race than the public data does, including in Minnesota, a swing state where the president’s aides have long maintained that the unrest after the killing of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, while in police custody, would accrue to their benefit. The campaign has added questions about the disorder to the surveys they have been conducting and hopes to counter inroads that Mr. Biden has made with white voters in recent months.
Democrats have grown increasingly nervous in recent days, fearing that Mr. Trump was successfully gaining traction with the issue, motivating his own base to turn out and appealing to independents turned off by television images of burning cars and looting.
“There’s a lot of hand-wringing going on with Democrats,” acknowledged Terry McAuliffe, the former governor of Virginia and Democratic National Committee chairman. “We love to do that.”