The Daily 202: Trump’s attacks on Gretchen Whitmer help explain his struggles with women and in Michigan
Many Americans have grown disconcertingly numb to this president advocating the imprisonment of his political opponents over policy disagreements. But this episode touched a nerve, coming just over a week after FBI agents foiled what they described as an advanced domestic terror plot to kidnap Whitmer because of their anger over Michigan restrictions to slow the spread of covid-19. Prosecutors say that these anti-government paramilitaries were training, conducting surveillance and experimenting with explosives with the intent of acting against the governor before Election Day. These men allegedly planned to try Whitmer for treason and then execute her.
“Ten days after that was uncovered, the president is at it again – inspiring and incentivizing and inciting this kind of domestic terrorism,” Whitmer said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “It is dangerous, not just for me and my family, but for public servants everywhere who are doing their jobs and trying to protect their fellow Americans. People of good will on both sides of the aisle need to step up and call this out and bring the heat down. This is the United States of America. We do not tolerate actions like he is giving comfort to.”
Trump’s “lock ’em all up” riff captures in miniature several of his problems 15 days from the election, especially in the Wolverine State and among female voters. The president lacks message discipline, and his focus remains on issues that seem unlikely to turn the tide of a race he is losing.
Trump is always looking for a good foil. His efforts to caricature Joe Biden as a senile socialist have failed. The former vice president is viewed more positively than he was a few months ago. This contest has remained remarkably static.
For a host of reasons, Biden does not engender the sort of vitriolic anger among the Republican grass-roots base that Hillary Clinton did four years ago. That appears to be part of why the president has focused so much this year on attacking other Democrats who a lot of Republicans love to hate, whether it be Clinton, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Whitmer or others.
Saturday’s rally came six months to the day after Trump tweeted “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!” He did so to express support for armed protesters who had swarmed the Capitol in Lansing to protest restrictions imposed by Whitmer. Back in March, Trump referred to Whitmer as “that woman from Michigan.”
Trump has also long struggled to condemn odious people or groups that support him, as he did with the Proud Boys during the first debate and QAnon during Thursday’s town hall on NBC. The converse is also true: Trump often attacks individuals who are more popular than him if he perceives them as critical of him, as he has with Tony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious-disease expert, and Whitmer. The president fancies himself a counterpuncher, but throwing such punches often seems to prove counterproductive.
During a rally on Sunday, Trump ridiculed Biden by saying derisively that, “He’ll