The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

A brief history of the ‘Lock her up!’ chant by Trump supporters against Clinton

Will Trump try to 'lock her up'? It doesn't look like it (Video: Peter Stevenson/The Washington Post)

Nearing the end of his speech at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland in July, Chris Christie paused.

It wasn't just that the crowd was chanting — that, he expected. The New Jersey governor was in the middle of an attack on Hillary Clinton, listing what he saw as her many missteps as secretary of state. After each perceived misstep, he asked the crowd, “Is she guilty or not guilty?”

“Guilty!” the crowd thundered back again and again.

But this time, it sounded different. Christie looked down and to his left, at the enormous California delegation, momentarily distracted. Or perhaps it was Pennsylvania, Ohio or Maryland delegates. They were chanting.

His eyes narrowed for a moment, seeking out the disruption. But then a smile slowly took over his face. He nodded as he figured out what they were saying. The chant swelled to a roar, and delegates began standing up from their seats. They waved their red, white and blue “Trump” signs. They shook their fists. They screamed and hollered and made the building shake, in that now-familiar three-beat chant:

“Lock her up! Lock her up! Lock her up!”

It's hard to say definitively if that was the first time the most popular chant of Donald Trump's campaign was uttered, but by the next evening, it was a go-to refrain, punctuating every mention of Clinton's name.

It fit right in with Trump's core pitch to voters: that Clinton couldn't and shouldn't be trusted. His fans broke out in the chant at any mention of the Clinton Foundation, the email server or any other of his attacks on her.

Of course, that wasn't his only position. At times, Trump's rhetoric shifted, and he insisted that a better path would be beating her on Nov. 8. “Let's just beat her in November,” he told supporters at a rally on July 29 in Colorado Springs just after the Democratic convention — a line he repeated at various campaign rallies over the course of the fall.

But for the most part, he took a hard line — including when speaking with Clinton herself. “And I’ll tell you what. I didn’t think I’d say this, but I’m going to say it, and I hate to say it. But if I win, I am going to instruct my attorney general to get a special prosecutor to look into your situation, because there has never been so many lies, so much deception,” he said at the Oct. 9 presidential debate. “There has never been anything like it, and we’re going to have a special prosecutor.”

In Florida on Oct. 12, he told the crowd that “this corruption and collusion is just one more reason why I will ask my attorney general to appoint a special prosecutor,” and later adding, “She has to go to jail.”

That was then.

Senior adviser Kellyanne Conway went on MSNBC's “Morning Joe” Tuesday morning and basically conceded that with the campaign behind him, Trump isn't looking to prosecute Clinton. “I think when the president-elect, who’s also the head of your party, tells you before he’s even inaugurated that he doesn’t wish to pursue these charges, it sends a very strong message, tone and content” to the rest of the GOP, she said. “ … I think he’s thinking of many different things as he prepares to become the president of the United States, and things that sound like the campaign are not among them.”

Former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani sounded a similar note. “Look, there’s a tradition in American politics that after you win an election, you sort of put things behind you,” he told reporters at Trump Tower on Tuesday. “And if that’s the decision he reached, that’s perfectly consistent with sort of a historical pattern of things come up, you say a lot of things, even some bad things might happen, and then you can sort of put it behind you in order to unite the nation.”

And in an interview with the New York Times, Trump seemed to back off the idea, saying, “I don’t want to hurt the Clintons, I really don’t,” later adding, “It’s just not something that I feel very strongly about.”

Conservative media was quick to hit Trump for what Breitbart News called a “broken promise.” And as The Fix's Philip Bump points out, it's actually not up to the president to make such a call (the Justice Department handles prosecutions, which aren't conducted at the behest of the president).

But many of Trump's loudly chanting supporters on the campaign trail certainly seemed to be under the impression that a renewed investigation was coming. It might come as a surprise to some of them that it may not be.