For decades, law and order has been a Republican issue, a staple of race politics and, even apart from that, a weakness for Democrats.
Only last year, Democrats were struggling with calls to "defund the police," one of the worst slogans I've ever heard.
Now, with Republicans ready to defund the FBI because they searched for documents that were being intentionally withheld — hidden, even — the time has finally come for Democrats to take back the crime issue.
And that is precisely what President Joe Biden was doing last week.
"A safer America requires all of us to uphold the rule of law," Biden said in a rousing speech. "To this day, the MAGA Republicans in Congress defend the mob that stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6. . . . Don't tell me you support law enforcement if you won't condemn what happened on the 6th."
For decades, Democratic candidates have been attacked for being on the side of the criminals, not the police. The president took that on: "For God's sake, whose side are you on? . . . You can't be pro-law enforcement and pro-insurrection. You can't be a party of law and order and call the people who attacked the police on Jan. 6 'patriots.'"
It's about time.
Democrats have struggled with the crime issue for real reasons. The fact that a disproportionate percentage of those who are in prison, on parole or on probation are young men of color has led many to argue that being tough on crime means being tough on minorities.
But that argument ignores the reality of who the victims of crime are.
Crime is, primarily, an intraracial problem. The victims of crime look very much like the offenders, and leaving them unprotected is hardly a step forward in racial justice.
Obviously, the underlying problems need to be addressed: It is not race that makes someone more likely to be a criminal, but all the socioeconomic and demographic factors that correlate with race.
Offenders are overwhelmingly poor and poorly educated. So are the victims.
We have all seen instances of police brutality directed toward young men of color.
Such conduct needs to be addressed.
But there's no reason to condemn all police officers for the excesses of the few and no basis for suggesting that we would all be safer with fewer police officers.
Indeed, Biden pointed out that it was the Republicans who voted as a bloc against legislation that puts more police on the streets. "When it comes to fighting crime, we know what works: officers on the street who know the neighborhood . . . and as we hire more police officers, there should be more training, more help and more accountability."
At the end of the day, it's former President Donald Trump's fault.
He is costing the Republicans dearly, turning them into pretzels as they try to defend the indefensible at the expense of long held principles.
Serves them right for not owning the fact that the former president erred in his response not only to Jan. 6 but also to the subpoenas requesting the return of top-secret documents.
Defending a president who has contempt for the rule of law is a costly endeavor.
In Trump's case, it has cost them an issue that they have ridden to victory in one election after another. And it has given Democrats the opportunity to own the issue of personal security, after years of being accused of defending the criminals' lobby.
This November, that will be the Republicans' cross to bear.
Susan Estrich is a politician, professor, lawyer and writer. Whether on the pages of newspapers such as The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and The Washington Post or as a television commentator on countless news programs on CNN, Fox News, NBC, ABC, CBS and NBC, she has tackled legal matters, women's concerns, national politics and social issues. Read Susan Estrich's Reports — More Here.