Yeah, no. “He was speaking figuratively” is the one argument you can’t make in defense of what he said this morning on CNN. You can say it’d be unjust if he ended up with 1,200 delegates and lost the nomination anyway in a floor fight. Some would disagree, but Trump would have a lot of support on that. You can say that he wasn’t condoning riots as a reaction to losing the nomination, merely observing matter of factly that they’d happen with or without his approval. There’s truth to that too, although it’s harder to give a candidate the benefit of the doubt on thuggishness by his voters when he’s known for egging them on to get rough with protesters. I think Trump saying “there’ll be riots” is less a case of him encouraging violence than a demonstration of warped priorities. Any other politician in America would have said, “No, there won’t be riots, and I’ll do everything in my power to see to it that there aren’t.” Not Trump. Add this to the already bulging “What if Obama said it?” folder, I guess.
The one thing you can’t argue, though, is that Trump was speaking figuratively. He wasn’t. Watch the first clip below and pay attention at around 0:50, after he’s already referenced rioting. Quote:
I think you would have problems like you’ve never seen before. I think bad things would happen, I really do. I believe that. I wouldn’t lead it, but I think bad things would happen.
It’s painfully clear that he means real, actual violence, and it’s painfully clear that RNC spokesman Sean Spicer has no choice when asked about it but to try disingenuously to cover that up. (That’s the second clip below.) Trumpism does indeed corrupt and you’re seeing a small but telling example of it here. This is what the leadership of one of America’s two major parties will be reduced to for the next seven months — pretending, as needed, that Trump and his movement are really just politics as usual, a slightly more populist flavor of the standard Republican product offered every four years. In fact, one of the few bright spots last night for anti-Trumpers was laughing at this tweet from Reince Priebus, which seems to have been transmitted from an alternate reality:
Only GOP candidates are putting forth policies that put our country back on track & bring opportunity & security Obama failed to deliver
— Reince Priebus (@Reince) March 16, 2016
Yes, if there’s one thing that defines Trump as a politician, it’s the close and careful attention he pays to policy. As for the prospect of rioting if he’s denied the nomination after falling just short, what he says here may be obnoxious but it’s not untrue. On the contrary, Philip Klein argues that threats of violence are essential to Trump’s cause when lobbying delegates on the floor in Cleveland:
[T]he overall impression that he’s created is that he’s sitting on a powder keg. That he controls a huge mob of angry supporters that can be dispatched at his whim. And ultimately, one can see how that’s starting to filter into the conversation people are having over a contested convention.
Political commentators now routinely talk about the riots that would break out in Cleveland if Trump were denied the nomination, about how his supporters have guns and all hell could break loose, that they would burn everything to the ground.
It works to Trump’s advantage to not try too hard to dispel these notions. He wants Republican delegates who control his political fate to have it in the back of their minds that the convention would turn into an actual bloodbath if they dare to deny Trump the nomination. And the more the media portrays Trump supporters as an unruly mob over the next few months, the more fearful GOP elites will become, and the more it plays into Trump’s hands.
Klein wrote that yesterday, before Trump’s CNN interview this morning, and now here he is doing exactly what Klein predicted — not condoning violence but fully endorsing the idea that it’s in the offing if he doesn’t get his way. Think that’s an accident or part of a strategy? Trump is many things, but he’s not stupid.