In “The Exaggerated Claims of Media Bias Against Donald Trump,” I explained how the candidate makes inflammatory remarks that he crafts to generate outraged attention, then attacks the media when they report his words just as he intended. I concluded that Trump is the primary driver of negative Trump coverage.
On Tuesday, Representative Al Baldasaro, a state lawmaker in New Hampshire who co-chairs the Trump campaign’s national veterans' coalition, demonstrated that this self-destructive quality is present in the larger Trump coalition with a shocking statement.
He wants Hillary Clinton shot for treason.
The backstory is useful: Earlier this summer, Baldasaro used a talk-radio interview to declare that the Democratic nominee for the presidency should be violently killed. “She is a disgrace for the lies that she told those mothers about their children that got killed over there in Benghazi,” the New Hampshire Republican said. “She dropped the ball on over 400 emails requesting backup security. Something's wrong there. I wish they'd make the documents public on why Ambassador Anderson was there. In my mind I want to think, were they moving guns? Were they doing something there? How did they know he was even there? Hillary Clinton should be put in the firing line and shot for treason.”
This call to have the rival party’s nominee riddled by bullets generated negative press, as most adults, many adolescents, and even some precocious toddlers would’ve expected.
The Boston Globe quickly gave him a chance to reconsider his remarks. He declined, stating that “without a doubt” he stood by his professed desire for Hillary Clinton to be shot to death. “When you take classified information on a server that deals with where our State Department, Special Forces, CIA, whatever in other countries, that’s a death sentence for those people if that information gets in the hands of other countries or the terrorists,” he said. “As far as I’m concerned, that’s information for the enemy. In the military, shot, firing squad. So I stand by what I said.”
(Notice that in the course of defending the death penalty as a punishment for Hillary Clinton, he changed the alleged crime from Benghazi to a private email server.)
At the time, the media quoted these remarks verbatim.
CNN reported that the Secret Service would investigate the remarks. And some fellow Republicans criticized the language. "That's not keeping with the best traditions of American politics,” Senator Tom Cotton told Jake Tapper. “We have opponents. We have adversaries. We don't have enemies in American politics so I can't agree with that kind of rhetoric. That kind of rhetoric has no place in our politics."
Soon the incident was mostly forgotten. Trump says too many outrageous things on a weekly basis for the words of an obscure campaign adviser and ally to have much staying power.
That brings us to Tuesday, when Springfield Republican reporter Shira Schoenberg followed up with Baldasaro:
CAMBRIDGE — An adviser to Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump doubled down Tuesday on comments he made saying that Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton should be shot for treason. But New Hampshire state Rep. Al Baldasaro, a Republican who co-chairs Trump's national veterans' coalition, stressed that he was not saying someone should assassinate Clinton.
"The liberal media took what I said and went against the law and the Constitution and ran with it, and they said that I wanted her assassinated, which I never did," Baldasaro told The Republican/MassLive.com. "I said I spoke as a veteran, and she should be shot in a firing squad for treason."
Even as this man insists that he wants Hillary Clinton to be lined up and shot to death for the third time, he seems to truly believe “the liberal media” is the cause of his problems. Never mind that his characterization of how the media initially covered the story is dubious at best, or that his notion of what constitutes treason is cartoonishly ignorant. His desire that the Democratic nominee be put to death will obviously strike the vast majority of Americans as creepy and unhinged, regardless of whether he imagines the firing squad as a legal or extra-legal remedy!
Yet he is so convinced that there’s nothing wrong with his statement that, despite being quoted verbatim, he has convinced himself that he must have been misunderstood.
As I’ve previously noted, the conservative press has lodged many valid complaints about liberal media bias over the years. But by constantly exaggerating the problem and exercising little restraint or discretion in playing the bias card, the right has also indulged delusions like the one Baldasaro displays here, and undermined the ability for any of its media complaints to be taken seriously.
This is bad for the Republican Party, insofar as its partisans are never confronted with arguments against their most unhinged or dangerous impulses, and increasingly deaf to the way they sound to Americans outside their ideological echo chamber. And it is bad for the United States, insofar as rhetoric that normalizes the idea of violently killing partisan rivals and politicizes treason, of all things, does real damage.
One reason voters like me, who would normally root for Hillary Clinton to lose, much prefer her to Donald Trump is the judgment that, if elected, he’ll surround himself with the sort of ignorant extremists who are eager to bring out the firing squads. That may sound overwrought. Yet it is literally what this adviser has repeatedly urged.