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Trump campaign: Haul out the guillotine

Yesterday, the Trump campaign fired off a fundraising email headlined, “Haul out the guillotine.”

It read, in part:

“Remember when that Sicko Kathy Griffin made the rounds parading my BEHEADED head when I was President?! The radical left CHEERED!”

“The SAD and HORRIFIC TRUTH is that this is STILL the Sick Dream of every Trump-Deranged lunatic out there! And it’s not just me they want gone, THEY’RE REALLY COMING AFTER YOU!”

That’s weird. Even by the rapidly deteriorating standards applied to cloying solicitations to prospective donors, that one is objectively weird. The paranoia into which it taps, and the persecution complex it is meant to reinforce in its readers, is, however, akin to earlier Trump camp missives warning, “THEY WANT TO SENTENCE ME TO DEATH!” and promising “1 MONTH UNTIL ALL HELL BREAKS LOOSE.”

It’s possible to make too much of remarks like these — political media almost certainly are — but it’s just as easy to make too little of it, too. The president’s campaign seeks to monetize the, let’s call it confusion, among those who were deliberately misled to believe that the U.S. Justice Department botched an assassination attempt against Trump when it conducted the search of his Mar-a-Lago property. It is profoundly reckless for the president’s campaign to promulgate in the candidate’s voice the distorted claim that “they’ll TAKE ME OUT and move on to their real target: YOU!!” It’s contemptibly cynical to retail that claim when they know it to be a lie.

Beyond the disregard the former president’s team has displayed for the intelligence of their audience, maneuvers like these create unnecessary political risks for Trump — particularly now, on the precipice of the general-election campaign. The Biden campaign has a theory of the race that puts Trump in the driver’s seat. The former president dictates the terms and tempo of events in this race, with the incumbent president’s campaign operating under the assumption that he will eventually self-destruct. Trump has so far stubbornly refused to give the Biden camp what it wants, but remarks like these make the incumbent’s all-thumbs campaign appear prescient.

Trump himself flirted with promising to be the instrument of “retribution” — his, and yours, of course, but mostly his — until he reportedly learned that the audience for that sort of thing was already limited to his core voters. Recently, though, Trump has once again indulged his instinct to wallow in bitter self-pity. In the process, he lends credibility to the Biden campaign’s central argument: Trump will be an agent of chaos in his second term. The Biden campaign never misses an opportunity to promote figures in Trump’s orbit who promise to mete out vengeance to Trump’s enemies, real or perceived, when he retakes office. “Revenge is no way to lead a country,” Biden told an audience last month. “You can’t build a future on revenge.”

In lieu of any better argument for itself, the Biden campaign has pushed all its chips in on a political strategy designed to give Donald Trump every opportunity to disqualify himself among the persuadable voters who will make or break one candidate’s campaign. Partisan Trump supporters may be in the market for a candidate who implies that he is in constant peril from the threat posed by the covert hit squads Joe Biden has dispatched and who promises to mete out hardship to his political enemies, but it’s unlikely that voters on the margins are similarly enthralled by that hyperbole. When those voters look nostalgically back on the Trump years, they remember the strong economy and relative geopolitical stability. They have compartmentalized the domestic political instability fueled in large measure by the president’s rhetorical intemperance. The Biden campaign will spend the next five months reminding voters that Trump’s inconstancy produced a far less stable presidency than they appear to recall. It is foolish for the Trump camp to play into that strategy.

Biden hopes to convince a sufficient number of voters that Trump’s restoration would subject the country to a grand social experiment in which the term-limited former president really lets his freak flag fly. Why Trump would play that game on Biden’s terms is a mystery.

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