The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion As Trump loses kingmaker status, he becomes more dangerous

President Donald Trump speaks to supporters at a campaign event in Kenosha, Wis., on Nov. 2, 2020. (Morry Gash/AP)
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Just how dark can “Dark MAGA” get? Donald Trump and one of his prominent acolytes have just shone some light on the matter.

On Sunday, amid a growing number of signs that he has lost his hot hand in Republican primaries, Trump elevated the idea of “civil war” against an “enemy [coming] from within” the United States. Republican leaders responded, as usual, with silence.

On Monday, the Trump-endorsed candidate for governor in Georgia, former senator David Perdue, closed out his failing campaign for the Republican nomination by stripping off the mask and letting fly a starkly racist finale: He said the (Black) Democratic gubernatorial candidate, Stacey Abrams, is “demeaning her own race” and should “go back where she came from.”

Of the many states running primaries or runoffs on May 24, Georgia took center stage. Here’s what you need to know. (Video: Adriana Usero/The Washington Post)

The back-to-back appeals to violence and white supremacy provide a caution to those celebrating Trump’s apparent loss of his kingmaker status in Republican politics: As ugly as things have been with Trump holding an iron grip over the GOP, they could actually get worse if he feels his grasp slipping and becomes even more incendiary in his provocations.

Trump on Sunday used his own hapless media company, Truth Social, to share a screenshot of a tweet from Salvadoran president (and Trump ally) Nayib Bukele saying of the United States: “Something so big and powerful can’t be destroyed so quickly, unless the enemy comes from within.” Trump “ReTruthed” that message, along with the two-word commentary a Truth Social user had appended to it: “Civil war.”

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Trump, who has long idolized Robert E. Lee and championed memorials for Confederate leaders, wasn’t clear about whether his sharing of the message was meant to recommend, or merely to predict, a civil war. Neither did the aspiring Jefferson Davis share what he found enticing about the prospect.

Was it the mass death? A repeat of the mortality of the Civil War would mean about 8 million deaths today. Or was it the Lost Cause mythology, which gave birth to Jim Crow and today’s white supremacy?

But this much is perfectly clear: Trump was, once again, amplifying a favorite theme of the violent far right.

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The Oath Keepers, the right-wing militant group now being prosecuted for sedition for its role in the Jan. 6 insurrection, has long had the civil-war idea at the heart of its ideology. “We aren’t getting through this without a civil war,” the group’s leader, Stewart Rhodes, wrote before the insurrection, according to court filings. The leader of the group’s Arizona chapter posted a video claiming that Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) told the chapter that the country is already in a civil war.

The casual expectation of violence is spreading. Pennsylvania Republicans last week chose as their gubernatorial nominee Doug Mastriano, a state senator who marched on the Capitol on Jan. 6 and who wrote his master’s thesis on the need for the military to protect the country from a “Hitlerian Putsch” by the left, The Post’s Greg Jaffe reported. And Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-N.C.), who had previously warned of “bloodshed” if elections “continue to be rigged,” said after losing his primary last week: “It’s time for Dark MAGA to truly take command” over the “cowardly and weak members of our own party. Their days are numbered. We are coming.”

Then there’s Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), of course, who has spoken of a secession-style “national divorce” as a civil-war alternative, and of using “our Second Amendment rights … to defend ourselves from a tyrannical government.”

Precisely because of such people, the United States actually is at risk of civil war — more than at any point in recent history. As I have noted, the Trump presidency and the Capitol insurrection caused the country to lose its status as a “full democracy” for the first time since 1800, according to an index used by the CIA to track instability and political violence abroad. A partial democracy, which the United States now is, faces three times the risk of falling into civil war.

That was true before Trump began amplifying talk about war against an enemy within; before Fox News’s Tucker Carlson, House Republican Conference Chair Elise Stefanik (N.Y.) and others promoted the “great replacement” conspiracy theory allegedly used to justify last week’s racist massacre in Buffalo; and before Perdue, on his way to defeat, told his White audience that Abrams was “demeaning” her race.

Trump and Perdue are the ones demeaning their race — the human race. After Buffalo, they know exactly where these words lead, and yet, even now, they choose to escalate.

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