Could President Trump’s bipartisan criminal justice reform — known as the First Step Act* — prove to be a first step in a political revolution? We ask because of a startling disclosure by one of the President’s shrewdest lieutenants in the campaign for First Step, Jared Kushner. It turns out, he said, that greater numbers of ex-cons being granted suffrage in Florida are registering as Republicans.
Mr. Kushner, the President’s son-in-law, dropped that surprise almost in passing toward the end of an interview with Laura Ingraham. The interview was mainly about the First Step Act celebrated Monday at the White House. Toward the end of the interview, though, they chatted about the Democratic field. Ms. Ingraham popped one of those classic one-word questions: “Socialism?”
“I don’t think that’s where the country is,” Mr. Kushner said. “One statistic that I found very pleasing is that in Florida they passed a law where former felons can now vote. We’ve had more ex-felons register as Republicans than Democrats, and I think they see the reforms . . .” Ms. Ingraham cut in: “Whoa, whoa, whoa. You’ve had more ex-felons register as Republicans than Democrats?”
“That’s the data that I’ve seen,” replied Mr. Kushner. “I think that will surprise a lot of people when they see the new coalition that President Trump is building for what the Republican Party has the potential to be.”
No doubt it would be a mistake to make too much of this. It’s been but months since Florida amended its constitution to restore voting rights to felons. It will take years for the effects to show up in voter registration and at the polls. Yet it would be a mistake to make too little of it, as well. Particularly because we’ve had some — not to put too fine a point on it — close races in the Sunshine State.
Florida’s constitutional amendment, after all, restored, at least de jure, suffrage to something like 1.5 million ex-cons, according to the various press accounts. The Democrats were the party pushing for putting these men and women back on the voting rolls. That brings Florida in line with most states. The party seems to have taken for granted that they will reap the advantage.
That could prove to be yet another underestimation of Mr. Trump. We’re not predicting that, just marking the possibility. The video of the event at the White House to celebrate the the First Step Act underscores the point. It is, we don’t mind saying, breathtaking and worth watching in full. It illuminates the President’s abilities as an inclusive, bipartisan leader.
And as a strategist. Mr. Trump declared that the First Step Act “rolls back provisions of the 1994 Clinton crime law that was so devastating to so many — and that disproportionately impacted the African American community. Nobody believed how much, and now they understand it.” Just to mark the point, the 1994 “Clinton” crime bill was written by the Democrat itching to challenge Mr. Trump, Joe Biden.
It’s not our purpose to suggest that the First Step Act is without issues (it was opposed by a number of the most conservative senators). Our purpose is to mark that while the Democrats are trying to get out of first gear — they’re still focused on the Mueller report — Mr. Trump is setting up his 2020 strategy in a highly premeditated way, one that the Democrats seem determined to underestimate yet again.
* First Step Act is an acronym for the Formerly Incarcerated Reenter Society Transformed Safely Transitioning Every Person Act. Correction: Mr. Trump is the person who declared that the First Step Act rolls back provisions of the Clinton crime bill. The speaker was mis-identified in an early edition of this editorial.