CLEVELAND – Delegates to the Republican National Convention are divided this week over a crucial question:
Should Hillary Clinton be summarily executed? Or merely imprisoned without trial?
Most favor the latter position, judging from the nightly chants of “Lock her up!” from the convention floor and the regular calls from convention speakers to outfit Clinton in a jumpsuit or stripes and place her behind bars.
But a minority would deal more decisively with the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee. On Wednesday, word broke in Cleveland that New Hampshire state Representative and Donald Trump delegate Al Baldasaro, who has shared the stage with Trump at campaign events, said in a radio interview that “Hillary Clinton should be put in the firing line and shot for treason.”
The Republican nominee and his advisers themselves are split on the issue. “Hillary Clinton has to go to jail, OK? She has to go to jail,” the candidate declared last month. “She’s guilty as hell.”
But his longtime adviser Roger Stone has long argued for more. “Hillary must be brought to justice – arrested, tried and executed for murder,” he tweeted two years ago. Stone suggested anew this week (at a rally also attended by Baldasaro) that Clinton murdered her friend Vince Foster.
In Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan is imprisoning his foes without trial. In Russia, enemies of Vladimir Putin have been killed. But in America, we usually deal with political opponents in elections.
Those at Quicken Loans Arena have other thoughts.
“Lock her up!” said Michael Flynn, retired general and Trump’s national-security adviser, chanting with the delegates. “If I did a tenth of what she did, I would be in jail today.”
“Lock her up,” veteran Jason Beardsley, another convention speaker, concurred.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker on Wednesday night ignited the crowd by saying: “If she were any more on the inside she’d be in prison.”
Darryl Glenn, Senate candidate and county commissioner in Colorado, told the convention-goers that “she loves her pantsuits” but “she deserves a bright orange jumpsuit.”
Chris Christie, in his Star Chamber presentation to the convention Tuesday night, held a mock trial to “hold Hillary Rodham Clinton accountable.”
“Lock her up!” the delegates chanted.
“We’re getting there,” Christie replied.
He and the audience went on to convict Clinton on numerous charges, including being “an apologist for an al-Qaeda affiliate in Nigeria, resulting in the capture of innocent young women.”
Those surprised by this week’s vengeful words probably weren’t paying attention earlier.
Trump lawyer Michael Cohen last month tweeted the allegation that Clinton “murdered an ambassador.” Corey Stewart, chairman of Trump’s Virginia campaign, accused Clinton of “essentially encouraging the murder” of police officers. Rocker Ted Nugent, a prominent Trump supporter, said Clinton and President Obama “should be tried for treason and hung.”
Trump himself often speaks favorably of violence (“Punch him in the face. … Knock the crap out of them”) and has talked of using presidential powers to torture suspects, target innocent relatives of terrorists, restrict press freedoms, go after a judge presiding over a fraud case against him, and get the Justice Department to investigate opponents.
Is it OK for political figures to talk this way?
Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, who previously represented Ferdinand Marcos, Mobutu Sese Seko and other strongmen, doesn’t seem to mind.
Asked at a news conference Wednesday morning about “how angry” the convention has been, Manafort replied, “The tone that I saw was of joy.” Asked about the “Lock her up” chant, Manafort opined that “it probably reflects the attitude of a lot of people in America.”
Reflects? Or encourage those who have violent thoughts of extra-constitutional remedies?
Calls for killing Clinton have been heard before at Trump events. At an event this month, one man repeatedly shouted, “Hang that b––!”
Last week, a member of the West Virginia House of Delegates, Mike Folk, tweeted that Clinton “should be tried for treason, murder” and then “hung on the Mall in Washington.”
At the Republican convention here, sales of “Hillary for Prison” T-shirts have been brisk. And the hateful have felt emboldened: Officials shut down the chat function on the convention’s live-stream after a barrage of anti-Semitic comments.
Will the cries for blood and vengeance cause a backlash outside this angry convention?
“Hillary Clinton now belongs in prison? C’mon,” Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz, a Never Trump holdout, tweeted Tuesday night. “We can make the case that she shouldn’t be elected without jumping the shark.”
Sorry, Fonzie. This shark was jumped many episodes ago.
Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter @Milbank.