Donald Trump offered his most frightening vision yet of a possible second term, telling supporters in language that echoed the January 6 mob attack on the US Capitol that they must “fight like hell” or lose their country. .
The rhetorical escalation from the four-time impeached former president came at a rally in South Dakota on Friday night where he accused his possible 2024 opponent, President Joe Biden, of directing his indictment of 91 cases in four criminal cases as a form of election interference.
“I don’t think there’s ever been a darkness around our country like it is right now,” Trump said, in a dystopian speech in which he accused Democrats of allowing an “invasion” of migrants at the southern border and the try restarting Covid. “hysteria.”
The strong speech of the Republican front-runner raised the prospect of a second presidency that will be more severe and challenge the rule of law than his first. His perception that the Oval Office has given him unfettered power suggests Trump will indulge in similar behavior as he is awaiting trial, including intimidating local officials in an alleged bid to reverse his loss in 2020.
Characteristically, Trump has also rejected criticism of his behavior against his political opponents, arguing firmly that the real danger to America’s political freedom does not come from his attempt to invalidate a free and fair election, but from efforts to make him face legal responsibility for doing so. . “This is a real threat to democracy as they trample on our rights and freedoms every day of the year,” he said.
“This is a big moment in our country because we’re going to go one way or the other, and if we go the other way, we won’t have a country left,” he told supporters in South Dakota. “We will be together, we will win together and then we will seek justice together,” he added. This was followed by a rally in March where he billed his 2024 campaign and potential second term as a vessel for “retribution” for supporters who believe they have been wronged.
Trump is a highly skilled demagogue whose facility for injecting falsehoods and conspiracies into the country’s political blood has created a spiral of chaos and acrimony in which only he seems to thrive. And his words shaped public opinion. In a recent CNN poll, for example, only 28% of Republicans think Biden legitimately won enough votes to win the 2020 election. It comes after years of Trump relentlessly denying he lost, and even after the courts rejected many of his challenges to the outcome.
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The autocratic cast of Trump’s campaign is creating a bad atmosphere around the 2024 election and creating deep problems for voters and his opponents. This, for example, gives more importance to the growing debate about whether Biden, at the age of 80, has the necessary stamina and political strength to defeat Trump for a second time. While his predecessor spent the weekend questioning America’s electoral system, Biden was on the other side of the world in India and Vietnam building international support for his conservative foreign policy strategy of countering threat to Western democracy from authoritarian leaders in China and Russia.
At home, the ex-president’s extremism has also exposed the timidity of many of his main Republican rivals, who recently squared off with rookie candidate Vivek Ramaswamy but are only willing to criticize Trump in the most oblique of ways. terms to avoid alienating his millions of GOP supporters. As for the closest candidate, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, came to criticize Trump’s behavior on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday, warning that “we must leave the negativity of the past behind us” as she emphasized. himself as an example of a new generation of leadership.
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The increasing demagoguery of the former president also puts the unknown factors in the 2024 election:
– Does the GOP risk nominating a candidate whose bad behavior will alienate voters in many suburban swing districts who turned against him in the 2020 election, especially given the possibility that he could be a convicted felon criminal at the time chosen by the voters?
– And if Trump wins the nomination, his obligations and the prospect of four more years of turmoil and recriminations will reduce concerns about Biden’s physical and mental fitness and concerns about the economy, as revealed by a CNN poll last week drew a broadly negative view. in his presidency?
At the same time, Trump’s strong lead in the primary shows there is a market for his brand of strongman theatrics. Millions of voters trusted and admired him and were drawn to his false claims that he had won the 2020 election and that the criminal charges he was facing were an attempt to persecute him for his political views. . Trump’s frankness and carefully maintained image as an outsider, despite the fact that he used to live in the White House, allows him to endlessly tap a seam of anger against Washington and the political, economic and media “elites” who feel strongly back in the “Make America Great Again” movement. This may explain why his charges seem to have made him more popular in the GOP primary.
And schooled by Trump, Republicans have widely complained that the current president’s son, Hunter Biden – who is being investigated by a special counsel over alleged tax and gun law violations after the collapse of the a plea deal – given preferential treatment by the Justice Department. And they called corruption what they saw as Hunter Biden’s attempt to take advantage of his father’s former position as vice president to close business deals in places like China and Ukraine.
Trump has been seeding and spreading many of these accounts for months, putting political pressure on GOP leaders on Capitol Hill to consider the possibility of an impeachment inquiry into Joe Biden. Supporters of the measure have not yet indicated which high crimes or misdemeanors, or instances of treason or bribery — the constitutional basis for impeachment — would apply to Biden. The president has denied involvement in any of his son’s businesses, and Republicans have not produced any evidence of wrongdoing on his part in connection with the deals. However, a majority of Americans in a recent CNN survey – 61% – said they thought Joe Biden had at least some involvement in Hunter Biden’s business dealings, with 42% who said they thought he was acting illegally, and 18% said his actions were unethical but not illegal. A 55% majority also said the president acted inappropriately regarding his son’s investigation into potential crimes, while 44% said he acted appropriately.
These national divisions that Trump has masterfully widened speak to a deep sense of alienation in American politics that will only worsen in a bitter election. Such a divide was on display at a football game Saturday in the first state GOP caucus where Trump, one of several GOP candidates attending the game, was greeted with a mix of cheers. and boos. Many football fans gave him a one-finger salute in a move that caught on on social media. The host Iowa State Cyclones lost to the University of Iowa Hawkeyes in a game in Ames, a college town in Story County — a liberal bastion in an increasingly conservative state that Trump twice carried in the general election.
Some commentators have previously questioned what they see as alarmist media coverage of Trump, suggesting that his performative belligerence is often interpreted too literally. But the hundreds of pages of evidence in the criminal indictment accuse Trump of using the power of the presidency to try to steal an election and the way he used his appearances and social media to try to intimidate. of judges and potential jurors before his trials left such criticisms. very outdated.
Trump’s fiery rhetoric is essential to his political appeal and his method of building power. From his bitter put-downs and derogatory nicknames for opponents, to the speech in Washington before he told people to “fight like hell” or they won’t have a country on January 6, 2021, Trump used the language to promote his political activity.
In his speeches in South Dakota – where he accepted the endorsement of Gov. Kristi Noem, a potential vice presidential pick if she is the GOP nominee – Trump complained that she was the victim of “corrupt and blatant” victimization and “election interference.” He said the charges filed against him would “allow” him, if elected president, to call his attorney general and demand an investigation of his political opponents. “Impeach my opponent, he’s doing a good job,” Trump said, implying that’s exactly what Biden did. The former president used a sarcastic tone in the chaotic atmosphere of a campaign rally, so context is important. But given his example of following through on his threats, his comments will be prophetic if he wins in 2024.
He has always argued as president that he has all but unfettered constitutional power, a characteristic that is clearly evidenced in three of his charges – the attempts to subvert the election and his concealment of classified documents. documents after leaving the White House.
So, when Trump issues threats on the campaign trail, it’s worth heeding.