Sep 25, 2023 - Politics & Policy

Trump hands gift to Biden campaign with extreme online rhetoric

Illustration of a gift box with a red necktie as a ribbon

Illustration: Natalie Peeples/Axios

Over the last 72 hours, former President Trump's daily torrent of online grievances crossed — not for the first time — into musings about "treason" and the execution of his political enemies.

Why it matters: Despite claims of a strategic "pivot" to the general election, Trump appears committed to the same unrestrained, sometimes violent rhetoric that alienated many independent voters in 2020.

  • The Biden campaign, which has relentlessly sought to brand Trump and his allies as "extreme," is taking notice.
  • So, too, is the FBI: Threats against bureau personnel have surged more than 300% since agents executed a search warrant at Mar-a-Lago last August, according to a New York Times deep dive on the growing risk of political violence in the wake of Trump's indictments.

Driving the news: Trump began the weekend by accusing retiring Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley of a "treasonous act," after the Atlantic published a profile detailing how the nation's top general navigated the Trump presidency.

  • "This is an act so egregious that, in times gone by, the punishment would have been DEATH!" Trump posted on Truth Social, referring to Milley's reassurance to his Chinese counterpart in the days after Jan. 6 that the U.S. would not suddenly attack China.
  • 48 hours later, Trump again invoked "treason" — this time, vowing to use the presidency to investigate NBC News parent company Comcast over its "one-sided and vicious coverage."

The intrigue: The Biden White House took the rare step of responding to Trump's attack on NBC Monday morning, potentially previewing a more aggressive stance toward the former president's online diatribes.

  • "To abuse presidential power and violate the constitutional rights of reporters would be an outrageous attack on our democracy and the rule of law," White House spokesman Andrew Bates said in a statement.

The big picture: On at least three other fronts this weekend, Trump's online missives aligned to a remarkable degree with the Biden campaign's messaging about its likely Republican opponent.

  • Abortion: Trump boasted of his role in the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade and claimed there "would be no talk of a six-week ban" on abortion "without me" — even as he criticized some Republicans for opposing exceptions to strict abortion laws.
  • Voting rights: Trump attacked Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro (D) for implementing automatic voter registration — calling it "a disaster for the Election of Republicans, including your favorite President, ME!"
  • Government shutdown: Trump urged House Republicans to embrace a maximalist position in order to change Biden's border policies and intervene in his criminal cases: "UNLESS YOU GET EVERYTHING, SHUT IT DOWN!" he demanded.

Reality check: While the Biden campaign seems content to allow Trump to assemble his own opposition file, a spate of recent polls suggests the former president's erratic rhetoric may already be priced in for many voters.

  • Trump's incendiary statements no longer command headlines to the extent they once did, with elected Republicans frequently waving them away as "Trump being Trump."
  • Perceptions of Biden's age and economic record, meanwhile, have driven his disapproval rating to the highest of his presidency.
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