In contemporary politics, there aren’t many lines remaining that political candidates are prohibited from crossing, but the American mainstream tends not to tolerate promoting violence. In a time in which it seems anything goes, this is arguably the final taboo.
It was therefore of great interest yesterday when Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Hillary Clinton’s running mate, made the case that Donald Trump is encouraging violence against the Democratic presidential nominee.
The Democratic vice-presidential nominee told “Fox News Sunday” that Mr. Trump’s recent comments about Mrs. Clinton show he either wants his supporters to turn violent or simply doesn’t care if someone is hurt as a result of his words. Asked directly whether he believes Mr. Trump is inciting violence, Mr. Kaine said, “I do.”“He is using language that is an incitement to violence or an encouragement of violence, or at least being cavalier and reckless about violence. And that has no place in any election,” Mr. Kaine said. “When you look at a series of these comments he’s making, I do believe it is an incitement or at a minimum an expression of indifference whether violence would occur.”
The impetus for this came on Friday night when Trump told supporters, in reference to Clinton, “She goes around with armed bodyguards like you have never seen before. I think that her bodyguards should drop all weapons. They should disarm. Right? Right? I think they should disarm immediately. What do you think? Yes? Yes. Yeah. Take their guns away. She doesn’t want guns…. Let’s see what happens to her. Take their guns away, okay? It would be very dangerous.”
Substantively, the rhetoric was ridiculous: Clinton hasn’t proposed banning guns. Trump is trying to suggest there’s some kind of hypocrisy about having armed Secret Service agents protecting Clinton, but his point is plainly absurd.
But note that the Republican candidate went further, speculating about what would happen to her once the Secret Service agents are disarmed. “It would be very dangerous” for Clinton, Trump said.
This follows comments from a month ago in which Trump said “Second Amendment people” could offer some kind of remedy if Clinton wins the presidency.
And that followed Al Baldasaro, a Trump adviser, calling for Clinton to be “put in the firing line and shot for treason” – a comment that did nothing to shake Trump’s confidence in his New Hampshire ally.
And that followed a series of incidents during the Republican presidential primaries in which Trump seemed to encourage violence against protestors at his campaign rallies.
Given the circumstances and the context, Kaine arguably has a point.
Postscript: Trump’s running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R), tried to defend the Republican’s latest rhetoric, insisting yesterday that Clinton “would deny the right of law-abiding citizens to have a firearm in their home to protect their own families.”
Pence, of course, is shamelessly lying. Clinton has never endorsed such a policy or anything like it.