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‘DEATH WISH’ post was risky even by Trump’s standards

AP Photo/Jill Colvin
A man holds up his index finger during former President Donald Trump’s rally in Warren, Mich., on Oct. 1, 2022.

Perhaps you’ve heard: Donald Trump is being provocative again, recklessly provocative — and this time he may be putting a political enemy in real danger.

I’m talking about Trump’s rant on social media targeting Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), allegedly because he hasn’t done enough, in Trump’s opinion, to stop the Democrats’ runaway spending. I say “allegedly” because it’s obvious to anyone paying attention that that’s not the real reason Trump is going after McConnell. The real reason is that McConnell had the audacity to say that what Trump did on Jan. 6, 2021, in egging on the mob that stormed the Capitol, was not simply wrong but an impeachable offense.

In their book, “This Will Not Pass,” New York Times reporters Alex Burns and Jonathan Martin quote McConnell as telling allies: “The Democrats are going to take care of the son of a bitch for us,” referring to their decision to impeach Trump. “If this isn’t impeachable,” McConnell is quoted as saying, “I don’t know what is.”

This is not something that would escape the attention of Donald Trump, a man whose radar picks up every rocket, big or small, fired in his direction and then tries to destroy whoever fired the shot. Which brings us to Trump’s rant on Truth Social. In it, he asks, “Is McConnell approving all of these Trillions of Dollars worth of Democrat sponsored Bills without even the slightest bit of negotiation, because he hates Donald J. Trump, and knows I am strongly opposed to them, or is he doing it because he believes in the Fake and Highly Destructive Green New Deal, and is willing to take the Country down with him.”

But then Trump goes on to write, “In any event, either reason is unacceptable. He has a DEATH WISH.” Note that Trump made sure we noticed those last two words by having them shout at us in capital letters.

Maybe that’s just Trump being Trump, but we live in dangerously partisan times. And it doesn’t take much for someone to take those words literally and decide to commit violence against McConnell. Remember what happened in 2017 when a left-wing fanatic opened fire on Republican members of Congress on a baseball field and almost killed Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.)?

More recently, Trump loyalists set up a makeshift gallows outside the Capitol on Jan. 6 and chanted “Hang Mike Pence!,” whose “crime” was that he refused to stop the electoral vote count that officially established Joe Biden as the winner of the presidential election.

So, we know what fanatics can do. Donald Trump also knows what they can do. But it didn’t stop his “DEATH WISH” broadside. There’s a reason for this, of course, and it’s that Donald Trump always puts himself first — even if it may put people he doesn’t like in harm’s way.

Trump supporters say this is no big deal, that the former president obviously meant that McConnell had a political death wish. But if that’s what he meant, he easily could have said so.  He didn’t. Instead, he played with fire.

And now, with the midterm elections just weeks away, in addition to putting one political nemesis in potential danger, Trump has managed to put every Republican running on the spot.  What happens when they’re asked to respond to questions about Trump’s “DEATH WISH” social media post? If they condemn it, they run the risk of losing the support of Trump loyalists.  And if they waffle, if they dodge the question, they’ll come off as weak and may lose votes from moderate Republicans and swing voters. One way or another, Trump did his fellow Republicans no favor. And if you think he cares, you might want to think again. When you reflexively put yourself first, you don’t worry about such “trivial” matters. 

Which leaves me with a question for the former president’s most loyal fans: Is there anything that will make them say, “I’ve had enough of this man”? Is there anything he can say or do that would make them abandon him?  

I’m pretty sure the answer is “No.” Not when they believe that with all his faults he’s still better than the Democrats, whose policies they say will destroy the country. But there are rabid partisans out there who are easily provoked — and telling them that Mitch McConnell has a “DEATH WISH” is a dangerous way to settle a personal vendetta, even by Donald Trump standards. 

Bernard Goldberg is an Emmy and an Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University award-winning writer and journalist. He was a correspondent with HBO’s “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel” for 22 years and previously worked as a reporter for CBS News and as an analyst for Fox News. He is the author of five books and publishes exclusive weekly columns, audio commentaries and Q&As on his Substack page. Follow him on Twitter @BernardGoldberg.

Tags 2022 midterm elections Donald Trump Mitch McConnell Mitch McConnell Truth Social

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