Littwin: Was Trump joking or is he just a really sore loser?

Michael Vadon


It was inevitable, I guess, that we’d finally get to the point in this presidential campaign when we’d be debating whether or not Donald Trump was advocating killing Hillary Clinton, which is a big step up from suggesting we make America great again by carrying some random protester out on a stretcher.

For the record, I’m sure Trump wasn’t calling for an assassination. OK, I’m pretty sure, anyway. Lock Clinton up, yeah. Call her a devil, sure. Say she’s a monster, of course. Criminal, traitor, you can go down the list.

But however absurd this 2016 campaign might be, it’s not a kill-Hill movie.

I’d agree with Elizabeth Warren’s take on Trump when she mockingly tweeted that he “makes death threats because he’s a pathetic coward who can’t handle the fact that he’s losing to a girl.”

And he is losing. Suddenly, he’s losing bigly, if you believe the polls — and you know how big it is because the Donald suddenly doesn’t believe in the polls at all. In fact, we’ve hit skewed-poll season again, and you know how that turns out.

So he had to shake things up, right? That’s what he was supposed to be doing with his yawningly-received economic message, during which he basically tossed populism under the limo. But the Detroit speech did suggest (if only briefly) a more disciplined Trump, reading from a prompter, even if, as Politico’s Glenn Thrush put it, he sounded like a drunk shouting into a drive-thru speaker.

And then, just when Trump could have stuck with discipline and made the case against “Crooked” Hillary after the New York Times story about emails— yes, more emails — calling into question the relationship between Hillary Clinton’s State Department and Bill Clinton’s foundation. Instead, Trump stepped all over the story, which is just one more reason he’s losing.

The Trump polling slide is probably due to some combination of an amateurish campaign, the lock-her-up GOP dystopian convention, Trump’s calamitous fight with the Gold Star parents, college-educated Republican women remembering what they had learned in class and a hundred other things, which isn’t to say that Trump can’t come back, but some – like election guru Stu Rothenberg — are saying that a comeback would require a miracle.

But back to the throw-away line (if, in fact, you can do a throw-away assassination line), in which he was discussing the “horror” of Hillary Clinton winning the election and appointing judges who would do away with the Second Amendment and possibly Article II, as well.

“If she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks,” Trump said. “Although the Second Amendment people — maybe there is, I don’t know.”

Whatever else that was, it was not a miracle. It’s a joke, presumably, like the baby-tossing line. Or like the easy-way-to-a-Purple-Heart line. Or the Russians-hacking-Clinton line.

And it’s not a joke because this guy could actually be president in what would be a major test of the American democratic project — which is something he didn’t build, but something he might well tear down. I mean, it’s bad enough that he’s constantly talking about a “rigged” election, presumably promising a challenge if he loses, possibly with those “Second Amendment people” and maybe Vladimir Putin by his side. You don’t have wonder why all those Republican national security people are so publicly switching sides.

I was struck by a couple of things as I watched Trump deliver the Second Amendment line, starting with the fact that most in the audience didn’t even seem to notice. There was the one guy in the frame behind Trump who went slack-jawed and exchanged an incredulous stare with the woman sitting next to him.

The more important stuff was on my Twitter feed, where the line was immediately deconstructed. Did he mean killing Clinton or did he mean killing the justices she would appoint or did he mean an armed insurrection because appointing justices would be, you know, tyranny?

But it’s not just small-d democrats who should be offended by the joke – which Trump wouldn’t say was a joke, because even he understands at some level that you shouldn’t joke about assassinations in American politics — it’s also those “Second Amendment people.”

Those of us on the left are often accused of conflating “Second Amendment people” with people who kill people with guns. The actual argument, of course, is that the NRA and its allies help make it too easy for people who kill people with guns to get hold of them.

But what do you think Trump meant by “Second Amendment people” — that they’re would-be assassins? That they’re ready for civil war?

Trump tried to defend the line by saying he was simply encouraging those concerned about gun rights to vote. His campaign said Trump was just calling our attention to the “power of unification” or something. Eventually, Trump just settled for the “dishonest media” quoting him, well, correctly.

So, let’s just say that it was a joke, and that, at the same time, it was not a joke, which is as good an explanation for the Trump phenomenon as any.

[Photo credit: Michael Vadon via Creative Commons on Flickr]


  1. I disagree. It was not a joke. It was planned…even though he made it appear off the cuff. He paused as he spoke, until he got to his point.

    Then he delivered it with a planned escape route “I don’t know…”

    This is one of his many attempts to cross a line and then claim he’s being persecuted by the media. It all works with his base, which is giddy at this latest non-gaffe.

    And it’s repugnant. Even if you believe that it was a “joke” and therefore excusable.

  2. we are seeing the Manafort/Putin playbook really start in earnest…this is the opening salvo for what is to become a very ugly run to November…

  3. Interestingly, nothing Trump says will dissuade his true supporters who love his belligerence and bullying. I’m sure there is some psychological element at play in terms of supporters who feel personally empowered by Trump.

  4. Just saw a quote from Katrina Pierson, Trump spokesperson, as she tried to clean up yesterday’s remark on Jake Tapper’s CNN show.

    Pierson said that Trump wasn’t talking about wanting Hillary Clinton to be shot, but that she would be shot if she won, “Well, that’s actually not what he was talking about. Because he was saying what could happen, as you said, what could happen. He doesn’t want that to happen. And in order to stop that, people that support their Second Amendment rights need to come together and get out there and stop Hillary Clinton from winning in November.”

    Has a campaign spokesperson ever done GOTV with the claim “vote for my guy to stop an assassination of our opponent”?

  5. Trump was talking to the Timothy McVeighs in the country and they are listening. Theses are scary times.

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