WASHINGTON – So, Donald Trump thought he’d have a little fun this weekend with the idea of Hillary Clinton being assassinated.
The Republican presidential nominee suggested that, because Clinton favors restrictions on guns, her security detail should be disarmed. “Take their guns away,” he proposed. “Let’s see what happens to her.”
There was a time when fantasizing aloud about the murder of your opponent would have been beyond the pale – but not anymore. “Absolutely nonsense,” Trump’s running mate, Mike Pence, told ABC News when asked if such a message could incite violence.
If Trump’s “let’s see what happens to her” suggestion were a one-off, there might be an argument for giving him the benefit of the doubt. The tendency to regard each Trump outrage in isolation is what allows him to become normalized. But look at the comprehensive output of Trump – who freely admitted to The Washington Post that “I bring rage out” in people – and there’s no escaping the conclusion that he winks, and sometimes smiles, at political violence.
Does Pence also find it “nonsense” to question why, on the very day he defended Trump’s assassination talk, the Trump campaign posted on its YouTube channel a video featuring rocker Ted Nugent? Nugent earlier this year called for Clinton and President Obama to be “tried for treason and hung,” and he posted on his Facebook page a spoof video of Bernie Sanders gunning down Clinton.
Did Pence think it poppycock to doubt Trump’s intent when he suggested last month that gun owners could murder either Clinton or her judicial appointees? “If she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks,” he said. “Although, the Second Amendment people, maybe there is.”
Did Pence find it balderdash to question Trump’s assertion that “you would have riots” and “bad things would happen” if Trump were denied the GOP nomination?
But before long all this baloney and drivel reaches critical mass, and you realize that Trump regards violence as a legitimate political tool.
He defended Vladimir Putin against accusations that the Russian dictator has killed journalists, saying that “in all fairness,” he hasn’t seen proof. He said of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un that “you’ve got to give him credit” for maintaining power. He saluted the late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein for being “damn good at killing terrorists,” and years ago he said the Chinese government’s bloody crackdown in Tiananmen Square “shows you the power of strength.”
He said he would bring back waterboarding and “much worse,” figuring terrorism suspects “deserve it.” He said that he would “bomb the s – “ out of the Islamic State and that “I love war, in a certain way, but only when we win.”
Some threats are vague: “We’re going to have to do something” if Muslims in America don’t turn over suspected terrorists, and “we’re going to do things” to end protests and division. He pretended to consider killing journalists before promising, “I would never do that.”
His longtime confidant Roger Stone has talked about a “bloodbath” – rhetorical, he insists – if Trump loses, and Stone has suggested that Clinton should be “executed.” There have been a score of violent confrontations at Trump events, among supporters, opponents, journalists and staff. Shouts of “hang the bitch” are not uncommon at Trump rallies.
What’s more troubling than what his backers do is how Trump backs them when they do it. He has said of protesters: “Maybe he should have been roughed up” and “I’d like to punch him in the face.” He has promised to pay the legal fees of supporters who would “knock the crap out of” anybody getting ready to throw a tomato, and he has spoken fondly of the days when protesters “would be carried out on a stretcher.”
He said it was “very, very appropriate” when his supporters hit back at a demonstrator, and he lamented that it takes a long time to eject protesters because “nobody wants to hurt each other anymore.” He has complained that there aren’t “consequences” for the demonstrators, saying “we have to toughen up.”
After Trump proposed Friday evening that Clinton be denied armed protection, New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd told CNN the next day that she had told Trump “it was wrong that there was violence being incited at his rallies.”
Trump, in Dowd’s telling, “disagreed and said he thought the violence added a frisson of excitement.”
Trump, in response, fired off tweets calling Dowd a “neurotic dope.” At least he didn’t propose Second Amendment remedies.
Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter @Milbank.