Nov 13, 2023 - Politics & Policy

Trump's "vermin" speech again draws scrutiny to extreme rhetoric

Photo: Joseph Prezioso/AFP via Getty Images

Former President Trump's new description of his political enemies as "vermin" — and his vow to "root out" what he called "the threat from within" — has drawn outrage from Democrats, warnings from historians and silence from Republicans.

Why it matters: Trump's increasingly extreme rhetoric will be a central issue in the 2024 election, especially as he inches closer to the Republican nomination and the Biden campaign spends millions to define the race as an existential test for U.S. democracy.

  • Some historians have compared Trump's dehumanizing language — including his claim that undocumented immigrants are "poisoning the blood of our country" — to the rhetoric of fascist dictators such as Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini.
  • "When you dehumanize an opponent, you strip them of their constitutional rights to participate securely in a democracy because you're saying they're not human. That's what dictators do," Columbia University historian Timothy Naftali told the Washington Post.

Driving the news: In a Veterans Day speech in New Hampshire on Saturday, Trump pledged to "root out the communists, Marxists, fascists and the radical-left thugs that live like vermin within the confines of our country, that lie and steal and cheat on elections."

  • He also posted the same message on Truth Social — confirming that the incendiary language was deliberate, not a heat-of-the-moment miscue.
  • A Trump campaign spokesman then defended the former president's word choices, slamming critics and historians as "snowflakes" whose "sad and miserable existence will be crushed" if Trump wins in 2024.

The big picture: The vengeful rhetoric at the heart of Trump's campaign message isn't just bluster.

  • And as Axios reported this morning, powerful outside allies are pre-screening the ideologies of thousands of potential appointees to replace vast swaths of the federal bureaucracy with pro-Trump loyalists.

Between the lines: Alarmed by polls showing Trump is leading President Biden in key battleground states, some Democratic strategists have urged the Biden campaign to more aggressively spotlight Trump's extreme rhetoric and proposals.

  • A shift already appears underway: Biden's campaign and the White House both issued statements today blasting Trump's "vermin" speech and comparing it to Hitler and Mussolini.
  • Top Republican officials have long been averse to defending Trump's election lies and violent rhetoric, and now the Biden campaign is intent on exploiting their silence.
  • Asked if she was comfortable with the language used by the GOP front-runner, RNC chair Ronna McDaniel told NBC's "Meet the Press" on Sunday: "I am not going to comment on candidates and their campaign messaging."
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