Hours after Gov. Gretchen Whitmer accused Donald Trump of “inciting” domestic terrorism by repeatedly attacking her at his rallies in the wake of a kidnapping plot against her, the president's re-election campaign took to Twitter to unleash a bizarre new smear: That it was the governor who was actually, somehow, attempting to incite assassination attempts against him.
During a rally in Michigan on Saturday, the president appeared to dismiss what cops and the FBI have called a violent, militia-infused scheme to kidnap and possibly even kill the governor, saying, “I guess they said she was threatened.” With Trump taking aim at her over the state’s coronavirus restrictions, the crowd chanted “lock her up,” prompting the president to seemingly join in.
“Lock them all up,” he said in response to the chants.
“This is exactly the rhetoric that has put me, my family, and other government officials’ lives in danger while we try to save the lives of our fellow Americans. It needs to stop,” Whitmer reacted on Twitter over the weekend.
Interviewing Whitmer on NBC News’ Meet the Press, moderator Chuck Todd wondered aloud how the president’s continued broadsides were impacting the polarizing but popular Democratic governor.
“What does something like this do to you personally? I’m just—I know how you're acting professionally here. I’m just wondering how this impacts your family personally. I mean, that’s a lot to deal with,” Todd asked.
“You know, it’s incredibly disturbing that the president of the United States, ten days after a plot to kidnap, put me on trial, and execute me—ten days after that was uncovered—the president is at it again and inspiring and incentivizing and inciting this kind of domestic terrorism,” she declared. “It is wrong. It’s got to end.”
“It is dangerous, not just for me and my family, but for public servants everywhere who are doing their jobs and trying to protect their fellow Americans,” Whitmer continued.
While the Michigan governor was denouncing the president’s rhetoric and how it appears to be stoking extremism, Team Trump began Sunday with mostly lame attempts at defense.
Over on Fox News Sunday, for example, Trump campaign senior adviser Jason Miller was asked whether or not the president regretted his attacks against the governor or joining in the chants, replying: “No, not at all.”
Miller then suggested that Whitmer deserved to be on the receiving end of the harsh rhetoric due to her handling of the pandemic, which has resulted in protests against the state’s stay-at-home orders and social distancing guidelines.
Then the campaign unleashed a truly deranged new line of counter-attack.
On Twitter, the president's war room account claimed that the numbers 86 and 45—which appeared in the background of the Whitmer Meet the Press broadcast—were some kind of code targeting Trump.
“By Gretchen Whitmer’s own standard, displaying something encouraging people to ‘86’ the President is employing dangerous rhetoric.” said Courtney Parella, deputy National Press Secretary for the campaign.
In a statement, Bobby Leddy, a spokesperson for Whitmer’s campaign, told The Daily Beast, “The silly season is officially here. It’s pretty clear nobody in the Trump campaign has ever worked a food service job. Here’s the bottom line: the president is not only a super spreader of COVID-19, he is also a super spreader of hate and fear. His divisive rhetoric needs to stop, and we need a president who will bring Americans together to defeat COVID-19.”
Leddy then proceeded to offer up a Merriam-Webster definition of the number at which the Trump campaign had taken such umbrage: “to refuse to serve (a customer); also : to get rid of : throw out.”