Donald Trump tweeted this Sunday evening:
If my many supporters acted and threatened people like those who lost the election are doing, they would be scorned & called terrible names!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 18, 2016
Terrible names, apparently, like "violent" and "vicious." Which is what Trump called his own supporters (perhaps jokingly) just two days prior.
Trump said Friday at a rally in Orlando that his supporters had been both of those things during the campaign, but that they had toned it down since he won. Some interpreted the remarks as being tongue-in-cheek — Trump citing the media's characterization of his supporters rather than his own.
“You people were vicious, violent, screaming, ‘Where’s the wall?’ ‘We want the wall!’ Screaming, ‘Prison!’ ‘Prison!’ ‘Lock her up!’ I mean, you were going crazy," Trump said. "You were nasty and mean and vicious. And you wanted to win, right?”
Trump added: "It’s much different. Now you’re laid back, you’re cool, you’re mellow, right? You’re basking in the glory of victory.”
Trump is trying to have it both ways here, arguing that his supporters' at-times-over-the-top passion was a uniquely Trump phenomenon but also taking issue with anyone who casts it as a bad thing when it went too far.
During the campaign, he seemed to revel in the chaos that sometimes characterized his rallies and nodded toward violence at several junctures. New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd even said that Trump had told her he liked it.
"I told him that it was wrong that there was violence being incited at his rallies and that reporters were getting roughed up," Dowd said on CNN back in September. "And he paused — you're right, he did listen — but then he disagreed and said he thought the violence added a frisson of excitement."
Trump soon called Dowd "crazy" for her account of their conversation, but he clearly highlighted and played up the prospect of violence at his rallies. At one point he said he would look into paying the legal fees of a man charged with assault at his rally. He suggested that one protester was “so obnoxious and so loud” that “maybe he should have been roughed up.” At another rally, he mused about what would happen to Hillary Clinton if she didn't have armed guards. He suggested "Second Amendment people" might be the last line of defense for Clinton's appointed judges. He suggested there might be riots if he were denied the GOP nomination at the party's convention despite winning the most delegates.
And one of the signature chants of Trump's rallies over the years, as Trump noted Friday night, was "lock her up" — a rallying cry involving the jailing of a political opponent.
You can say what you want about the appropriateness of that kind of political dialogue, and plenty has been said. But it's undeniable that it was without any recent precedent in American history. There was something about Trump that drew these kinds of scenes and chants.
Trump is both suggesting that was a good thing — arguing that his supporters were uniquely riled up by his candidacy to the points that they could be perceived as being "violent" and "vicious" — while also suggesting that any criticisms of that kind of behavior are unjustified and unfairly tarnishing his supporters. But either they were unique or they weren't.
His Pollyannish tweet simply doesn't match up with what we at times witnessed at his rallies — and what he said just a couple days prior. Even if Trump truly doesn't believe is supporters are "violent" and "vicious," he clearly reveled in their unique passions, which sometimes spilled over into those things.