In an interview with conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt on Thursday, Donald Trump was asked what he thought would happen if he were indicted for his role in keeping classified documents at his Mar-a-Lago home after he had left the White House.
Here’s the exchange (bolding is mine):
Hewitt: You know the old saying. A prosecutor can indict a ham sandwich if they want to. I’m just asking if there is such a prosecutor and they indict you, would that deter you from running for president again?
Trump: I don’t think the people of the United States would stand for it. And as you know, if a thing like that happened, I would have no prohibition against running. You know that. You’ve already stated that.
Hewitt: I do. That’s what I wanted people to understand. That would not take you out of the arena.
Trump: It would not. But I think if it happened, I think you’d have problems in this country the likes of which perhaps we’ve never seen before. I don’t think the people of the United States would stand for it.
Hewitt: What kind of problems, Mr. President.
Trump: I think they’d have big problems, big problems. I just don’t think they’d stand for it. They will not, they will not sit still and stand for this ultimate of hoaxes.
It’s impossible to read those lines from the former President without this context: We are less than two years removed from a mob storming the US Capitol over the false belief that the election that had been stolen from Trump. A crowd, it’s worth noting, that Trump had told earlier in the day: “We fight like hell. And if you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.”
Hewitt, sensing that Trump had wandered into dangerous territory, tried to clean things up for the former President. “You know that the legacy media will say you’re attempting to incite violence with that statement,” Hewitt said.
To which Trump responded: “That’s not, that’s not inciting. I’m just saying what my opinion is. I don’t think the people of this country would stand for it.”
(Sidebar: The dictionary definition of “incitement” is: “the action of provoking unlawful behavior or urging someone to behave unlawfully.” )
What Trump’s answers to Hewitt suggest is that he hasn’t learned the lessons of January 6 – or anything close to it.
Words have power – especially when uttered by a former President who still retains a very loyal following across the country.
But this, of course, is the game that Trump always plays. He didn’t expressly say that there would (or should) be violence if he were indicted. He simply said that “you’d have problems in this country the likes of which perhaps we’ve never seen before.”
His intent, to any neutral observer, seems crystal clear. Trump is always just vague enough to give himself some plausible deniability. But what’s startlingly obvious to anyone paying attention is that Trump wants everyone to know that there would be consequences to prosecuting him – and they could be dire.
That sort of flirting with violence (or even the specter of violence) isn’t leadership. It’s the opposite.