Former President Donald Trump’s penchant for inflammatory rhetoric has cost him thousands of dollars in fines in the courtroom but appears to be buoying his White House bid as he escalates his use of dark and violent language on the campaign trail.
“You have to go out and fight like hell,” Trump has urged his supporters, “because these are dirty players.”
More than ever before, Trump is waging a campaign of vengeance by attacking judges, lambasting state and federal prosecutors and raising the specter of violence. His third bid for the presidency is centered around a quest for “retribution,” as he describes it, insisting he is the victim of political persecution and vowing to prosecute his political enemies if reelected.
“This battle that we’re in is a battle for all of us, and it’s for history,” Trump declared at a campaign stop in August. “We will fight together, we will win together and then we will seek justice together.”
The former president, who is a defendant in multiple criminal cases across the country, was recently fined a total of $15,000 for violating a gag order in his civil fraud trial in New York after he attacked a judge’s law clerk. Trump routinely rails against judges and prosecutors as “thugs,” “unhinged” and “radical” and has said people should “go after” New York Attorney General Letitia James, a Black woman whom he calls “racist.”
Trump is now under gag orders in two separate cases against him – the New York fraud case as well as the federal case over the former president’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election – that bar him from discussing certain aspects of them in public.
The gag order in the federal case was imposed after prosecutors raised concerns that Trump could intimidate witnesses or encourage harm against lawyers through his public comments. The potential for violence is hardly far-fetched, given that many defendants prosecuted in the January 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol said they were following Trump’s orders.
Trump reacted earlier this week to the reinstatement of the gag order in the federal election subversion case by asserting that his right to free speech was being infringed.
“The Corrupt Biden Administration just took away my First Amendment Right To Free Speech. NOT CONSTITUTIONAL!” the former president posted on his Truth Social platform, falsely blaming the Biden administration for independent judicial rulings.
Beyond earlier tough talk
In addition to attacking those involved in the cases against him, Trump has intensified his violent rhetoric in other aspects as he travels the country making his pitch to Republican primary voters. The former president holds a commanding lead in GOP primary polling and uses his legal challenges as a rallying cry.
“If you put me back in the White House, their reign will be over and America will be a free nation once again,” Trump told supporters at a recent campaign stop in South Dakota. “I don’t think there’s ever been a darkness around our nation like there is right now.”
The comments go beyond the tough Trump talk of his earlier presidential campaigns.
He recently said he thought shoplifters should be shot and has proposed giving drug dealers and human traffickers the death penalty. He suggested that former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley should be executed following reports that he spoke with a Chinese general during Trump’s fraught final months in office and has urged his supporters to “fight like hell” to “take back our country.”
Trump has described the 2024 election as “our final battle” and has warned that the world could be on the brink of another world war.
The former president has also been pointing to the Israel-Hamas war as he stokes fear about a potential terror attack within the US and warns of the danger of having “young, strong men” come into the country from the Middle East. Trump is escalating his anti-immigrant rhetoric as he pushes for new hard-line immigration policies and vows to reinstate and expand his controversial travel ban on certain Muslim-majority countries, implement ideological screenings for those coming to the US and revoke the visas of those who sympathize with Hamas.
Trump has also promised to “demolish the deep state,” as he pushes right-wing conspiracy theories about the federal government and proposes making it easier to fire civil servants. He has suggested abolishing the US Department of Education and has threatened to cut off funding from schools that teach what he describes as “inappropriate racial, sexual and political material.”
While Trump’s legal challenges are inextricably linked to his presidential campaign, the disconnect can seem jarring. Even major courtroom developments, like a string of guilty pleas from his former lawyers in the Georgia election subversion case, are not accepted by some Trump supporters, who still falsely believe the 2020 election was stolen.
“There’s a lot more people than you think who are in favor of Trump and thought that the last election was stolen,” said Lori Scroggin, an Iowa Republican who saw Trump earlier this week during a stop in Sioux City. “We just want what’s ours.”
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