Question of the day: Why did Trump call for the death penalty for the NYC jihadi but not for the Vegas shooter?
I can think of an obvious reason, as can you.
But sometimes these niceties escape others. GQ published a story yesterday about the perplexing disparity in Trump’s quick insistence on death for the ISIS degenerate in New York and silence about capital punishment for others, most notably Vegas degenerate Stephen Paddock. After a million or so people emailed and tweeted at them a theory as to why, they offered this correction:
Edit: An earlier version of this article used a headline noting that Trump had publicly called for the death penalty in the New York attack, but not the Las Vegas shooting in particular. That discrepancy is probably related to the fact that the Las Vegas shooter is dead. We regret the error.
One killer is dead, the other is alive. That *would* explain it. Amazingly, another reporter made the same goof. Watch below as Politico’s Eli Stokols stumbles into the same mistake live on MSNBC. If you’re going to nail the president for alleged prejudice in deciding who should and shouldn’t get the death penalty, might be worth double-checking which suspects still have a pulse first.
The clip of Stokols that’s going around, including on Fox News, is 20 seconds long and cuts off right after he mentions the Vegas shooter. Watch the full exchange, though, and you’ll see that he goes on to invoke a more interesting comparison: Why call for death for Saipov but not for the white nationalist who mowed down Heather Heyer in Charlottesville? He’s still alive and he used the same method as Saipov to kill. That’s an apples-to-apples comparison, isn’t it?
The least charitable read on that is, a la Stokols, that Trump is playing white identity politics. The Muslim gets insta-death, the white nationalist gets due process. Slightly (but only slightly) more charitable is the idea that Trump blames both sides, the alt-right and Antifa, for things turning violent in Charlottesville — and he’s not alone in doing so. That’s not apples-to-apples with someone plowing into a group of pedestrians out of the blue in lower Manhattan. If you endorse that approach, though, you’re left arguing that a scumbag gunning his car at a crowd of people and killing one of them isn’t quite first-degree murder, that it’s somehow a logical result of two hostile groups throwing punches at each other. Good luck with that. Especially since, as far as I know, there’s no evidence that Heyer herself was threatening anyone.
There’s another possibility. Maybe Trump thinks that Saipov is a special case because jihadism is a special case, at the heart of the war on terror. A big wrinkle in the “Trump doesn’t want to execute white guys!” argument is that he’s spent the last two years calling for the death penalty for Bowe Bergdahl, a not insignificant factor in Bergdahl getting a light sentence. Trump may feel, as doubtless do many others, that special penalties should be reserved for people who get Americans killed by either waging war on the United States (a la Saipov) or going outside the wire to join people who are waging war (a la Bergdahl). Although you can anticipate the reply to that: Wasn’t the Nazi who ran over Heyer also waging war against the U.S. in his own way? There may not be an AUMF in his case but he had his own anti-American reasons for doing what he did.