Steve Doocy, one of the hosts of “Fox & Friends,” did a remarkable thing on Monday morning. He informed the country that the climate of political threats and violence that seems to be growing more fevered by the day is due in no small part to the conduct of former president Donald Trump.
Doocy didn’t quite put it that way, of course. But it is the unmistakable subtext of what Doocy did say.
Referring to the news of spiking threats to federal law enforcement in the wake of the execution of a search warrant on Mar-a-Lago, Doocy urged Trump to call for calm, saying this: “It would be great if he called for an end to the violent rhetoric against federal law enforcement.”
This morning Fox's Steve Doocy repeatedly criticized the right's "harmful rhetoric" against the FBI (rhetoric that's been frequent on Fox). He seemed to be speaking to Trump here: "It would be great if he called for an end to the violent rhetoric against federal law enforcement." pic.twitter.com/NPk2YncaGE— Brian Stelter (@brianstelter) August 15, 2022
Doocy is an outlier: What’s appalling about this situation is how tentative GOP leaders are being right now. Even those Republicans who are willing to admit that perhaps federal law enforcement is not solely out to persecute Trump are not yet urging him to use his influence to call for calm.
Ask yourself this: How many of those more reasonable Republicans are willing to even go as far as Doocy has? Meanwhile, of course, many other Republicans are openly and explicitly siding with Trump’s claims of persecution, actively feeding his supporters’ fury.
And here’s the thing: Experts in political violence say GOP leaders could make a big difference in calming the threats.
I recently interviewed Harvard professor Steven Levitsky, who is predicting growing political instability and violence, and Rachel Kleinfeld, who has tracked the deterioration and collapse of the rule of law in many countries. They both agreed that what GOP leaders say and do could help alter the trajectory away from instability and violence.
If that’s right, Trump himself could have a pronounced effect. I contacted Kleinfeld again to ask for her thoughts on this, and she emailed: “No person could make a greater difference to the rate of politically-charged violence and threats in America than Donald Trump.”
In other words, Doocy is right.
And if Trump were to make a straightforward call for calm, it might create space for other GOP leaders — or at least those who aren’t pushing the Trump-as-deep-state-martyr propaganda — to do the same.
It certainly doesn’t help matters that some in Trump circles have advanced the notion the Mar-a-Lago search has helped Trump lock up the 2024 GOP nomination if he wants it. As right-leaning blogger Allahpundit notes, there isn’t any real grounds for presuming this, and Trump’s demagoguery in response may even push some GOP voters who aren’t hopelessly besotted with Trump to consider alternatives, particularly if someone gets killed.
But beyond this, if Trump believes he can draw political strength from the rage of his supporters — and there are few things Trump likes more than being seen as strong — he’s even less likely to do the right thing.
Far too many mainstream media figures have described the current situation in generic ways. They talk about the “tensions” in the political “atmosphere” that have accompanied the search of Mar-a-Lago, as if they were as natural and inevitable as the weather.
In reality, those tensions are the product of Republican agency. They are the result of nonstop Republican demagoging about the search, and of the Trump team’s refusal to denounce the threats to law enforcement as unacceptable in a democracy. The real import of Doocy’s statement was to put that on the table for discussion.