Donald Trump’s pledge to consider pardoning those arrested on January 6 if he wins the presidency again in 2024 drew most of the headlines over the weekend. But it was something else he said in a free-form (and fact-free) campaign-style speech in Texas on Saturday night that really deserves more of your attention.
Talking about the various ongoing investigations into him, his family and their business, Trump said this:
“If these radical, vicious, racist prosecutors do anything wrong or illegal, I hope we are going to have in this country the biggest protests we have ever had in Washington, D.C., in New York, in Atlanta and elsewhere because our country and our elections are corrupt.”
Saying that — I hope we have major protests if I get indicted or worse — is irresponsible for any leader. Saying it in this moment — just over a year removed from January 6, 2021? Downright dangerous.
Why? Because we — and Trump — know that there is a sizable chunk of the public who believed (and believe) his lie that the 2020 election was stolen from him. A Quinnipiac University poll conducted earlier this month showed that 7 in 10 Republicans believed there was widespread fraud in the 2020 election. (There is zero evidence to back up that claim.)
And some not just believed it, but were willing to act on it, storming the US Capitol just more than a year ago in an attempt to stop the counting of the Electoral College vote. The riot left five people dead, more than 100 police officers wounded and led to hundreds of arrests of those who breached the building.
Trump — and those closest to him — have insisted that when he told the crowd gathered for the “Stop the Steal” rally near the White House on January 6 that “Republicans have to get tougher. You’re not going to have a Republican Party if you don’t get tougher,” he wasn’t inciting them.
Which, well, no. But, even if you buy that, there’s simply no way that you can conclude that Trump is doing anything other than prepping his supporters for more protests if/when he and his family are indicted or prosecuted.
He can’t play innocent this time. Because he’s seen what happened after he gave that speech on January 6 last year. He now knows — if he didn’t before — that his supporters are capable of violence and bloodshed.
To know all of that and still say what Trump said over the weekend is titanically irresponsible. It’s priming the pump for a repeat of what we saw last January. And for what? Because Trump is afraid of the potential legal problems facing him and his family?
What should happen next is that every member of Republican leadership should issue a condemnation of this sort of behavior. And pledge to support whatever decisions the legal system makes as fair and equitable.
That probably won’t happen, though. Why? Well, because elected Republicans are afraid of Trump — and their own party base, which is unstintingly loyal to the former president. And so, the likes of Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell and House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy will likely try to ignore Trump’s latest dangerous words — acting as though they somehow missed them or don’t feel the need to comment on them.
Sure. That makes sense, politically speaking. But if and when the Trump base rises up violently again, the GOP leaders won’t get to say they didn’t play a role in allowing it to happen.