Trump’s “dictator” comment reignites criticism his camp has tried to curb

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Donald Trump’s campaign asked his allies on Capitol Hill in recent days to publicly counter criticism that the former president would rule as a dictator in a second term, according to people familiar with the matter.

However, on Tuesday Trump revived those criticisms. Asked twice about the issue during a televised town hall with Fox News host Sean Hannity, including whether he would “never abuse power in retaliation against anyone,” Trump responded, “Except on Day 1,” before continue talking about drilling for oil and closing the border.

The mixed messages underscored what some experts and lawmakers see as Trump’s continued embrace of authoritarian rhetoric and ideas, and his refusal to fully refute some dire warnings about how he would govern in a second term, even as his campaign anticipates more attacks on this topic. issue. Washington Post reported last month that Trump associates are drafting plans to invoke the Insurrection Act on his first day in office, allowing him to deploy the military against civilian protests. Trump has repeatedly said that he views the prosecution of him as a license to turn the Justice Department and the FBI against his opponents and has identified some targets by name. He also continues to falsely claim that the 2020 election was stolen.

But in recent days, the former president and his allies have been more forcefully pushing back against comments from historians, policy experts and political opponents that a second Trump term would be more extreme and autocratic than his first. Two Trump advisers, who like others spoke on condition of anonymity to speak more candidly, said recent stories about his plans for a second term are not seen as helpful for the general election.

Asked directly to allay fears about his possible authoritarianism, Trump at the Fox News town hall changed the subject and launched into his own criminal allegations, as he has done for months by portraying the cases as politicized. Then Hannity tried again, amid reports that Trump wants to use federal power to investigate your political opponentspunish the media, deploy the army nationwide and consolidate executive authority.

“I want to close the border and I want to drill, drill, drill,” Trump said in his response. “We love this boy. He says, ‘You’re not going to be a dictator, are you?’ And I said, ‘No, no, no, except day 1.’ On day 1, we closed the border and drilled, drilled, drilled. After that, I am no longer a dictator.”

Trump’s recent comments and emerging plans have raised concerns among critics in both parties about the former president, who has built a commanding lead in Republican presidential primary polls and is ahead of president biden in some recent general election polls.

“I think people who like Donald Trump like Donald Trump regardless of what he says and he entertains them with bombast, which they find funny and compelling,” said Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), the 2012 Republican candidate who voted twice for Donald Trump. condemn Trump after his impeachment trials in the Senate. “His base loves the authoritarian streak. I think they love the idea that he can use the military in internal affairs and that he will seek revenge and retribution. That is why he says it and the Republican nomination is almost assured.”

Trump’s own concerns about covering his plans for a second term are more superstitious, according to people who have spoken to him and who say he is more focused on not cursing a victory next November. He maintains his frequent stance of winking and nodding rhetorically at his supporters and speaking ambiguously about polarizing issues.

The Trump campaign declined to comment on the record for this story. A Trump campaign adviser said: “It’s funny how the dumb media goes crazy about closing borders and drilling for energy.”

The increased efforts to address concerns about a second Trump term highlight the campaign’s heightened focus on the general election and its expectation that the issue will be Biden’s main line of attack, Trump allies and advisers said.

The Biden campaign is highlighting Trump’s latest comments at the Hannity town hall, as well as his recent use of the word “vermin” to describe political enemies, dehumanizing language that historians say echoed the Nazis. .

“Donald Trump has been telling us exactly what he will do if he is re-elected and tonight he said he will be a dictator from day one,” Biden-Harris 2024 campaign manager Julie Chávez Rodríguez said after the Fox town hall. “Americans “They should believe him.”

Senate Republicans offered a mixed reaction to Trump’s comments at the Hannity town hall on Wednesday. Senate Minority Leader John Thune (R.S.D.) said “it’s pretty typical rhetoric” from Trump, adding, “I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily surprising.”

“Their focus on energy independence and a strong border are goals we share,” Thune said. “Obviously, you want to achieve them in a way that is consistent with our laws and our Constitution. “I’m not sure what he meant by that.”

Sens. Lindsey O. Graham (R.S.C.) and Kevin Cramer (R.N.D.), who endorsed Trump for 2024, suggested the former president was joking during the town hall when he said he wouldn’t be a dictator “other than Day 1.” ”.

“On the one hand, he was being funny, but he was also pointing out that ‘I’m going to undo the executive orders that [Biden] He did it, which doesn’t make me any more of a dictator than him,’” Cramer said. “The people who have concerns are not people who would ever vote for him. This is part of the appeal of him, the authenticity of him, and the point he made is a really good one.”

During a speech In Iowa on Saturday, Trump tried to turn around alarm bells about his plans and rhetoric and claim that Biden was the “destroyer of American democracy.” His supporters on Capitol Hill echoed those talking points this week.

“Donald Trump was president. Did he imprison his opposition? No. Did he lock up Hillary? No,” said Rep. Byron Donalds (R-Fla.), who endorsed Trump and called Biden “the real dictator.”

Trump has also described both Biden and former Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), who he says is weighing a third-party presidential bid, as a “threat to democracy.” In 2016-2017, Trump adopted the term “fake news,” which was coined to describe websites that generated fake news to capitalize on online traffic, and turned it into a ubiquitous attack on journalism he disliked.

Trump’s plans for a second term have been based in part on work done through a coalition of right-wing groups called Project 2025, The Post and others. have reported. The news reports led Trump campaign senior adviser Susie Wiles to complain to project director Paul Dans of the Heritage Foundation, saying the stories were not helpful and the organization should stop promoting her. work among journalists, according to a person familiar with the call. .

Wiles and another senior adviser, Chris LaCivita, also issued a public statement last month distancing the campaign from those outside groups.

“None of these groups or individuals speak on behalf of President Trump or his campaign,” the advisers said in the statement. “These stories are neither appropriate nor constructive.”

In a statement to The Post, Dans said: “Project 2025 does not speak for any presidential candidate, but we share the common bond of being frequent targets of fake news. “We stand ready to assist the next conservative president in the work that must be done to dismantle the Deep State.”

Although Trump’s team has tried to downplay concerns about authoritarianism, some former Trump administration officials continue to echo his message of revenge. In an interview on former Trump adviser Stephen K. Bannon’s podcast this week, former Trump White House adviser Kash Patel threatened to attack journalists in a second Trump term.

“We are going to go after the media people who lied about American citizens, who helped Joe Biden rig the presidential election; We are going to go after you,” Patel said.

Trump’s campaign adviser said: “Idiotic comments like this have nothing to do with our campaign.”

Trump also recently wrote on his social media website that “the so-called ‘government’ should be tough” on MSNBC, after criticizing its coverage.

Graham downplayed the recent criticism as “a bunch of fools…”.

“The bottom line is this narrative that ‘you vote for Trump, you vote for a dictator’ is the only thing left because his policies aren’t working,” Graham said. “They can’t say ‘Vote for Biden.’ “It is impossible to sell Biden’s agenda, that is why they are trying to sell scaremongering against Trump.”

Asked if the Trump campaign had encouraged him to respond, Graham said, “You don’t have to ask me, I’ll be happy to.”

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