“Democrats have become the party of crime,” President Donald Trump declared on Thursday night at a rally in Missoula, Montana. At the same rally, Trump praised as “my kind of guy” a member of Congress who violently attacked a reporter, choked him, and then lied to the police about his crime.
Just a week before, Trump had praised his party as the party of “law and order and justice.” And only a week before that, The New York Times had published a huge, meticulously detailed report alleging decades of deliberate financial and tax fraud by Trump and his family.
It’s not just the president. In July, Donald Trump Jr. seemed extremely concerned about the potential for political rhetoric to incite violence. He condemned threats against Rand Paul, speculating that they had been incited by Maxine Waters, the California representative who had said, at a political rally, “If you see anybody from that Cabinet in a restaurant, in a department store, at a gasoline station, you get out and you create a crowd and you push back on them and you tell them they’re not welcome anymore, anywhere.”
On October 18, Donald Trump Jr. campaigned in Michigan alongside Ted Nugent, the NRA board member who has delivered death threats against Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, whom he called a “subhuman mongrel.”
In the contest for Florida’s 27th Congressional District, Republicans are excoriating the former Clinton Cabinet secretary Donna Shalala as an apologist for Fidel Castro. (Shalala had made the mistake of including California Representative Barbara Lee among the Democratic women invited to campaign for her. Lee genuinely has been a Castro sympathizer.)
Communist dictators are bad. Every Republican knows that! Except the Republican at the top of the ticket. At a rally in Wheeling, West Virginia, on September 30, Trump avowed a passionate devotion to the North Korean communist dictator, Kim Jong Un. “We went back and forth. And then we fell in love, okay? No, really, he wrote me beautiful letters, and they’re great letters. We fell in love.”
You can call this “the politics of bad faith,” as many Trump critics do and will. But it’s actually weirder than that. Republicans keep trying to revive themes from the Nixon and Reagan eras—and keep bumping into the truth that not only their president, but also many of their voters, believe exactly the opposite.
Republicans are conscious of Trump’s incitements at the time they occur. Yet they somehow cannot retain the memory of those incitements between the occurrences. “Republicans produce jobs, Democrats produce mobs” has become the party’s closing slogan—even as it urges voters to think of the election as a referendum on the record of Trump, the mob-leader-in-chief. How is this even done? Where does the mind find these resources? It’s beyond hypocrisy—it’s a double-folded state of being, and it will go on so long as the need to make excuses for Donald Trump continues.