Democratic presidential nominee former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump listen to a question during the town hall debate at Washington University on Oct 9, 2016 in St Louis, Mo.
Photo by Saul Loeb/Pool/Getty

Donald Trump’s fondness for projection proves to be a problem

Donald Trump’s campaign this week attacked Hillary Clinton for being “filthy rich.” Let that sink in for a moment: a self-professed billionaire, whose net worth dwarfs his opponent’s, went after his rival for caring too much about acquiring wealth.

Soon after, Steve Bannon, Trump’s campaign chairman accused Clinton of leading “a program of victim intimidation,” despite the fact that Bannon himself was accused of … wait for it … victim intimidation.

Trump himself has spent quite a bit of time and energy lately talking about predatory behavior towards women, despite the allegations he’s facing from women who’ve accused him of predatory behavior, and the audio recording of him boasting about groping women.

But watching Trump’s speech in Florida yesterday got me thinking about the most dramatic example of the candidate’s fondness for projection.
TRUMP: The Clintons are criminals, remember that. They’re criminals.

AUDIENCE: Lock her up! Lock her up! Lock her up!
At the same event, the Republican presidential nominee added, “Honestly, she should be locked up.”

The “lock her up” mantra has received quite a bit of attention, but we don’t often pause to appreciate why Trump’s furious followers keep saying it. My infrequent interactions with Trump fans usually follow a certain trajectory: I’ll ask why the Democratic presidential candidate should be incarcerated and they say, “Because she’s a criminal.”

I’ll ask what makes her a criminal, and they’ll say, “Because she broke the law.”

I’ll ask what law she broke, and they’ll say, “Um, you know, email stuff.”

Of course, “email stuff” isn’t a prosecutable offense, and if Trump and his followers are referring to the FBI’s probe of Clinton’s email-server protocols, that investigation ended with no evidence of criminal wrongdoing.

But the reason all of this starts to resemble projection is that Trump has also been accused of breaking quite a few laws himself.

We know, for example, that Trump’s charitable foundation broke the law against making campaign contributions with tax-exempt funds, and the foundation has been accused of a series of other misdeeds.

The GOP candidate has been accused of sexual misconduct, which is illegal. Trump’s been accused of circumventing the Cuban embargo, which is also illegal.

Trump has been accused of illegally accepting money after 9/11 that was intended for small businesses. His “Trump University” has been investigated for a variety of alleged illegalities.

This is not to suggest Democratic audiences should start chanting “Lock him up!” at public rallies – two wrongs don’t make a right – but if Trump thinks he somehow has the high ground when it comes to criminal allegations, perhaps he’s not paying close enough attention.

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton

Donald Trump's fondness for projection proves to be a problem