Amid all the speculation as to how multiple criminal indictments will affect Donald Trump’s 2024 campaign, a crucial evolution in the former president’s rhetoric and strategy has occurred. As he made clear in a rage-soaked speech to adoring followers at his Bedminster golf club following his arraignment in Miami on Tuesday, his comeback bid has a new focus. It’s no longer “backward-looking” toward the imagined 2020 election theft. Now, it’s about Trump’s present (perceived) persecution by Joe Biden and various officials in the U.S. justice system and his plans to throw all of his persecutors into prison. Jim Newell got it right at Slate in predicting that the Bedminster rant was a preview of many campaign speeches to come:
To turn his (second) indictment from a primary liability into an asset, he has to alter the contours of what the primary is fought on — what should be done about the corrupt FBI? The corrupt DOJ? On which charges should Joe Biden be prosecuted?
He’s well on his way.
The former president will probably continue talking about various policy proposals, and he’ll almost certainly keep insulting his Republican rivals for the White House. But the central argument his campaign will make from now on is that all other concerns flow from his challenge to the criminals running the country, who have made him their preeminent target. A Trump victory, and only a Trump victory, can keep “radical left” predators from feasting on the regular citizens the former president is bravely protecting with his very life and liberty. What else can such lines from his Bedminster speech mean?
If the communists get away with this [Trump’s indictment], it won’t stop with me. They won’t hesitate to ramp up their persecution of Christians, pro-life activists, parents attending school board meetings, and even future Republican candidates … We must end it permanently and we must end it immediately.
They want to take away my freedom because I will never let them take away your freedoms … They want to silence me because I will never let them silence you … I’m the only one who can save this nation because you know that they aren’t coming after me, they’re coming after you, and I just happen to be standing in their way, and I will never be moving.
No wonder some of Trump’s most fervent supporters seem to confuse him with Jesus Christ, given his self-presentation as the suffering savior of his nation. But he’s a savior who brings not peace but the sword, as he made especially clear at Bedminster, echoing words he posted at Truth Social the previous day (per The Hill):
Now that the “seal” is broken, in addition to closing the border & removing all of the “criminal” elements that have illegally invaded our country, making America energy independent & even dominant again, & immediately ending the war between Russia & Ukraine, I will appoint a real special “prosecutor” to go after the most corrupt president in the history of the USA, Joe Biden, the entire Biden crime family, & all others involved with the destruction of our elections, borders, & country itself!
I will totally obliterate the deep state … and I know exactly who they are.
How does professed neo-MAGA tough guy Ron DeSantis compete with that? Maybe he won’t even try. Trump’s efforts to make the Republican primary all about himself got an immediate assist from rival Vivek Ramaswamy, who just prior to the Miami indictment challenged all of Trump’s opponents to match his pledge to pardon Trump immediately if any of them win the presidency. But wouldn’t a self-pardon by Trump — much like Napoleon crowning himself emperor in 1804 — be more satisfying to the vengeance-minded, particularly when combined with the promised retribution against Biden’s “Department of Injustice” and the shadowy “communists” and media liars behind them?
At Bedminster, Trump called the occasion of his second indictment “a day that will go down in infamy,” choosing the words FDR famously applied to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. More precisely, it can be called the day Trump’s second attempted insurrection formally began with an unsparing attack on the entire system of justice and all the laws making his supposed persecution possible. As on January 6, 2021, Trump is now regularly treating his grasp on the White House as a life-or-death proposition for democracy, freedom, and American greatness. His rhetoric is both self-pitying and savagely vengeful. And heavily armed “patriots” are undoubtedly hearing the call of destiny once again. In some respects, the threat of MAGA violence has actually grown worse, as Dahlia Lithwick observed after watching the reaction to Trump’s indictment:
For those who maintain that Donald Trump is an innocent man, subject to an unjust witch hunt at the hands of deep state actors who covered up Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden’s criminal conduct, it’s go time. As Rep. Andy Biggs put it on Twitter the night Trump was indicted: “We have now reached a war phase. Eye for an eye.”
The promise of violence shimmers in the air.
The Republicans seeking to end Trump’s political career really are bringing knives to a gun fight; they are prepared to fight a campaign, not an ongoing, slow-motion insurrection, particularly when so many of them accept most of Trump’s claims about the deep and incorrigible “evil” of Biden and his party. They certainly can’t expect that Trump will fight them fairly; in the minds of his large band of core supporters, he is literally on a mission from God. Is there any reason to believe that Trump will concede defeat if he loses the upcoming primaries? Not really, especially when you remember that he revoked his concession in Iowa in 2016, deciding to accuse Ted Cruz of “stealing” the caucuses.
It goes without saying that if Trump does win the GOP presidential nomination, his general-election campaign will be unequaled in savagery. Nothing short of a historic Biden landslide (if even that) will dissuade him from another challenge to the results, ending more likely than not in more violence, perhaps this time not confined to Washington, D.C. Speaking to Georgia Republicans, MAGA election-denier Kari Lake was not ambiguous at all:
“I have a message tonight for [U.S. attorney general] Merrick Garland, and Jack Smith, and Joe Biden. And the guys back there in the fake news media, you should listen up as well, this one’s for you.
“If you want to get to President Trump, you’re going to have to go through me, and you’re going to have to go through 75 million Americans just like me.
“And I’m going to tell you, most of us are card-carrying members of the NRA. That’s not a threat — that’s a public service announcement.
“We will not let you lay a finger on President Trump. Frankly, now is the time to cling to our guns and our religion.”
We’ve been forewarned. It’s going to be a very long election cycle.
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