Watch how the former president’s positions and rhetoric have become more divisive and extreme as he seeks a second term
May 24, 2023 at 6:00 a.m. EDT
Former President Donald Trump’s positions on a wide range of issues have become more extreme. (Illustration by Adriana Usero/The Washington Post; CNN, C-SPAN)Comment on this storyComment
Immediately after January 6, 2021, President Donald Trump remained mostly silent, and when he finally delivered his farewell address to the nation, he disavowed the attack on the US Capitol as something that horrified all Americans and never can be. tolerated.
Now, as Trump seeks to return to the White House, he talks about Jan. 6 as a great day. He says there was no reason for the police to shoot the rioter who tried to break into the House chamber, and he denies there was any danger to his vice president, Mike Pence, hiding from a pro-Trump crowd chanting for him to be hanged. . He has promised to pardon many rioters if he becomes president again.
LEFT: Trump during his farewell speech on January 19, 2021. RIGHT: Trump at the town hall in Manchester, NH, CNN on May 10, 2023. (Video: The Washington Post)
On this and a host of topics, from sexual assault to foreign and domestic policy, Trump’s positions have become even more extreme, his tone more confrontational, his narratives less grounded in reality, according to a Washington Post review of the Trump’s speeches and interviews with former aides. Where it was sometimes ambiguous or equivocal, it is now brazenly provocative.
Taking extreme positions is nothing new for Trump: Since launching his 2016 campaign by calling Mexican immigrants rapists and then pledging to ban Muslims from entering the country, he has promoted policies divisive, made inflammatory comments and provoked constitutional clashes with Congress and the courts. But a return to the White House, by Trump’s own articulation, would be his chance to exact revenge on his political adversaries and push his most polarizing agendas even further.
The hardening of Trump’s stance comes after he has operated for more than two years without the official White House apparatus, putting fewer gatekeepers and layers of control between him and the public. It also follows a long list of grievances he has racked up over his eight years in politics.
To the experts who have reviewed his proposals, Trump draws the outlines of a second term potentially more dangerous and chaotic than the first. Critics from across the political spectrum have expressed alarm at his increasingly threatening rhetoric. But Trump’s most loyal supporters savored his combative speeches and followed him with tougher stances.
I was a Democrat before, said Greg Bouchicas, a construction company owner from Plaistow, NH, who came to hear Trump speak in Manchester last month in what he said was his first political event. The bogus FISA warrant against Trump attempted to strip him of the election and failed, he said, referring to court-approved surveillance of some of Trump’s associates’ contacts with Russians in 2016. Bouchicas raised his arms and extended two fingers on both hands when Trump spoke about rebuilding the economy.
LEFT: Trump speaking at a campaign rally on November 2, 2020 in Grand Rapids, Michigan RIGHT: Trump speaking at a rally on March 25, 2023 in Waco, Texas. (Video: The Washington Post)
In the scenario presented by Trump, he is still the victim, but so are his supporters: the shared experience of suffering through conflict brings them together and strengthens their bond, according to Ruth Ben-Ghiat, a historian at the University of New York and author of Strongmen: Mussolini to the Present.
When authoritarian leaders lose office, they come back, like, 10 times worse, they never get less extreme, they always get more extreme, Ben-Ghiat said. January 6 was a deeply radicalizing event for the rank and file, for the GOP, and for Trump himself, because even storming the Capitol could get away with it. His campaign events should be seen as an extremist radicalizing people and emotionally re-educating people to hate people.
At a rally in Waco, Texas, this year, Trump sought to discredit the criminal investigations and the indictment he faces, disparaging them without evidence as examples of prosecutorial misconduct, and added, when they’re chasing me, they’re chasing you. Later in the speech, he repeated a refrain that has become a standard line at his rallies: Together we face some of the most threatening forces and most vicious adversaries our people have ever seen, some of them inside. But no matter how hard the communists and criminals fought against hatred and corruption, you must never forget that this nation does not belong to them, this nation belongs to you.
Trump campaign spokesman Steven Cheung pointed to a recent report by special counsel John Durham in support of Trump’s claims. The report criticized the FBI’s investigation into the 2016 Trump campaigns’ ties to Russia, though it acknowledged the agencies’ affirmative duty to closely examine the initial allegations.
President Trump has been right time and time again, Cheung said in a statement. The American people are aware of the illegal witch hunts by the [Justice Department] and Deep State tried to overthrow his presidency, influence the 2020 election and are now running the same playbook to influence the 2024 election, he added, referring to the criminal investigations to which the ex-president is facing, which Trump has attacked as politically motivated.
Trump’s aides have repeatedly encouraged him not to talk too much about Jan. 6 and the rioters, saying it’s not a politically winning issue, according to advisers who spoke on condition of anonymity to reveal discussions internal. They tried to get him to talk about the ongoing criminal investigations he faces as election interference rather than backtracking on the last presidential election. But Trump has regularly spoken to some families of people in jail, aides say, and convinced himself they are being abused. He also has a number of aides who stay in touch with families and the January 6 rioters.
Former White House chief of staff John F. Kelly said he understands Trump’s recent January 6 defense was his real view, adding that Trump was inclined to change his position.
All those people who tried to overturn the election, that’s exactly what he wanted them to do. He can’t turn his back on the people who tried to save him in the election, Kelly, who no longer works with Trump, said in an interview. There is no compass. What is right today may not necessarily be right tomorrow. What’s right this morning can change four times before tonight. It all depends on who he’s talking to and what he’s trying to accomplish at the time.
Trump’s escalation is not just rhetorical. In 2018, he signed an executive order distancing himself from the zero-tolerance policy that separated migrant families at the border, aiming to quell public outrage over photos of children in cages and a tape of children crying for their parents. But at a recent CNN town hall, Trump defended the policy and suggested he could reinstate it to deter people from immigrating.
LEFT: Trump speaking to reporters at the White House on June 20, 2018. RIGHT: Trump at a CNN town hall in Manchester, NH on May 10, 2023. (Video: The Washington Post)
Not only has Trump never conceded defeat in the 2020 presidential election, but over time his false allegations of widespread fraud have become more elaborate. In the past, he has attacked the expansion of mail-in voting during the pandemic to suggest that Democrats could have inflated their tallies; now he claims (incorrectly) to have definitely found millions of fraudulent ballots stuffed into ballot boxes.
LEFT: Trump during his Ellipse speech before the attack on the Capitol on January 6, 2021. RIGHT: Trump at the CNN Town Hall in Manchester, NH on May 10, 2023. (Video: The Washington Post)
Even in the rare instances where he appeared intimidated or contrite, such as after Jan. 6 or after revelations about comments he made about the sexual assault, Trump continued to deny, cover up, or even outright defend, as in testify to some of his recent remarks.
When the Washington Post first reported that Trump bragged about groping women in a 2005 tape from the Access Hollywood set, he began losing support from top Republicans just weeks before the 2016 election. He rushed to apologize privately to his shaken running mate and posted an apology video. He also apologized for his remarks during a debate the following evening with Hillary Clinton.
But later, Trump began to privately question whether the tape-recorded remarks were really his. And in a videotaped deposition for the trial of writer E. Jean Carroll accusing him of sexual abuse and defamation, Trump took a different approach: Maintaining his claim that famous men can have what they want. want with women. Trump doubled down on that defense during the recent CNN town hall.
LEFT: Trump during the presidential debate on October 9, 2016. RIGHT: Trump at the CNN Town Hall in Manchester, NH on May 10, 2023. (Video: The Washington Post)
Trump has a long pattern predating his current campaign of backtracking or even apologizing in the face of public outrage, then later stepping down and taking an even more defiant stance, according to The Posts review. In the latest case, earlier this month, he suggested rehiring Michael Flynn, whom he fired as a national security adviser in 2017 for lying about contacts with the Russian ambassador.
He has a unique talent and skill set and understands he has the ability to revise history, said Marc Short, a top adviser to Pence, who is taking his own steps to run for the 2024 nomination. about Trump. He’s not one to retreat. He sees admitting mistakes as a weakness. It will always double and triple.
Trump also said he regretted letting local officials lead law enforcement responses and that in a second term he would be more aggressive in deploying the National Guard and even the military in active duty to quell social unrest, street protests and crime. His speeches are often punctuated with graphic descriptions of violent crimes that are often embellished or unsubstantiated.
LEFT: Trump at a November 1, 2020 campaign rally in Dubuque, Iowa. RIGHT: Trump speaking at a rally on March 13, 2023 in Davenport, Iowa. (Video: The Washington Post)
And over the years, Trump has escalated his vilification of Democrats and Republicans who don’t support him. In 2016, he said he was running against globalists and elites; in 2020, they were radical left socialists. Now he now regularly describes the 2024 election as an apocalyptic confrontation with nothing less than the irreversible destruction of the country at stake.
LEFT: Trump at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Maryland on February 27, 2015. RIGHT: Trump in Orlando on March 3, 2023. (Video: The Washington Post)
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