As Donald Trump faces growing scrutiny over his increasingly authoritarian and violent rhetoric, Fox News host Sean Hannity gave his longtime friend a chance to assure the American people that he wouldn’t abuse power or seek retribution if he wins a second term.
But instead of offering a perfunctory answer brushing off the warnings, Trump stoked the fire.
“Except for day one,” the GOP front-runner said Tuesday night before a live audience in Davenport, Iowa. “I want to close the border, and I want to drill, drill, drill.”
And in case anyone missed it, he reenacted the exchange.
“We love this guy,” Trump said of Hannity. “He says, ‘You’re not going to be a dictator, are you?’ I said: ‘No, no, no, other than day one. We’re closing the border, and we’re drilling, drilling, drilling. After that, I’m not a dictator.’”
Trump has a long history of making inflammatory proclamations that spark outrage from detractors and generate a stream of headlines, without ever coming to fruition. Often they are made in a tongue-in-cheek manner that allows Trump’s allies to claim he was joking and cite the backlash as another example of a candidate skilled at baiting an out-of-touch press that takes him far too literally.
Trump campaign aides said Thursday that the former president was simply trying to trigger the left and the media with his dictator comment, while also seeking to focus attention on the influx of migrants at the border and stubborn inflation, two vulnerabilities for President Joe Biden heading into the 2024 general election.
But the consequences of Trump’s rhetoric have been made all too clear, after he refused to accept the results of the 2020 election and a mob of his supporters violently stormed the U.S. Capitol to stop the certification of Biden’s victory.
The former president, who has long expressed regard for authoritarian leaders and the power they wield, is now vowing vengeance and retribution as he outlines a second-term agenda marked by an unprecedented expansion of executive power, unparalleled interference in the justice system, and a massive purge of civil servants.
Indeed, hours before his remarks were aired, a longtime ally who is widely expected to serve in a top national security role if Trump returns to the White House vowed to target journalists in a second Trump term.
“We’re going to come after the people in the media who lied about American citizens, who helped Joe Biden rig presidential elections,” said Kash Patel, even though numerous federal and local officials, a long list of courts, top former campaign staffers and even Trump’s own attorney general have all said there is no evidence of the fraud he alleges.