Nov 1, 2018

Exclusive: Trump says supporters demand his red-hot rhetoric

President Trump, in an interview with Axios that will premiere Sunday on HBO, says railing against his enemies in the media helped him win — and that his supporters like him more when he cranks up the "enemy of the people" rhetoric. 

Why it matters: In modern American history, no other president argued it’s not his job to calm people in a moment of high tension and unease, especially in the days following deadly domestic terrorism. 

Two exchanges during the interview provide a window into why Trump feels no responsibility for how Americans respond to his words or actions: He both feels wronged by the media, and knows he can whip his supporters into a frenzy by pounding the press:"

1) "Axios on HBO": "You are the most powerful man in the world. And if you say that word — 'enemy,' 'enemy,' 'enemy' — think about what enemy means."

  • Trump: "I think I'm doing a service [by attacking the press] when people write stories about me that are so wrong."
  • "I know what I do good and what I do bad. I really get it, OK? I really get it better than anybody in the whole world."

2) “Axios on HBO": "Tens of thousands of people go into a stadium to listen to you, and then people go on social media and they get themselves so jazzed up. There’s got to be a part of you that's like: 'Dammit, I'm scared that someone is gonna take it too far.'"

  • Trump: “It’s my only form of fighting back. I wouldn’t be here if I didn't do that.” 

When asked if people, including his kids, advise him to calm his rhetoric, the president replied: "Not too much. Hey, I'm here! It got me here." 

  • Reality check: White House officials tell us several family members and friends have implored him to tone it down.

Trump, in the interview for “Axios on HBO," which debuts Sunday at 6:30 p.m. ET/PT, said Republican election momentum was stopped by "two plots" — the Pittsburgh shooting and the mail bombs.

  • Trump — despite being the world's most powerful man, with the world's most powerful pulpit — portrayed himself as mismatched against a biased press.
  • "If they would write accurately about me, I would be the nicest president you've ever seen. It would be much easier."
  • "It's much easier ... for me to be nice than it is for me to be the way I have to be."

Context ... Both attacks last week were carried out by politically charged individuals:

  • The accused mail bomber, Cesar Sayoc, 56, had decked out his van as a mobile Trump billboard, including a "CNN SUCKS" sticker, and pictures quickly surfaced of him cheering at a Trump rally.
  • In Pittsburgh, Robert Bowers, 46 — who is charged with 44 counts in the 11 deaths, including hate crimes — disparaged Trump online but "pushed online conspiracy theories about the migrant caravan," the N.Y. Times reported.
  • The big picture: An Anti-Defamation League study found that "white supremacists and other far-right extremists" were responsible for 59% of extremist-related fatalities in the U.S. last year, up from 20% in 2016.

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