Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump points at supporters after speaking at rally at the Verizon Wireless Center in Manchester, N.H., on Feb. 8, 2016.
Photo by Justin Lane/EPA

Trump may not fully understand what a ‘witch hunt’ is

About four years ago, Republicans could hardly contain their excitement about assorted Benghazi conspiracy theories, prompting congressional Democrats to complain about the GOP’s witch hunt.

Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas), unimpressed, responded on the House floor, “Well, Mr. Speaker, that must mean there is a witch somewhere.”

It was one of my favorite political quotes of all time. Sessions, so caught up in partisan fervor, managed to get the meaning of “witch hunt” backwards. In the Texas Republican’s mind, to hunt for a witch necessarily means that the witch must exist. That’s exact opposite of what the phrase means.

The congressman’s unintentionally hilarious gem came to mind this morning seeing Donald Trump’s latest missive.

President Trump tweeted out several guest segments from various Fox News shows on Tuesday, denying claims his campaign colluded with the Russians.

“WITCH HUNT!” Mr. Trump tweeted.

This was hardly an unusual message for the president. According to the Trump Twitter Archive, he’s tweeted the phrase “witch hunt” 24 times since last January, including three times just this month.

Usually, there’s some context to the words, but not today. Apparently worked up by something he saw on television, Trump just decided to randomly tweet the words “WITCH HUNT!” with the assumption that we’d all know what he was trying to say.

And while that’s amusing, in a slightly uncomfortable sort of way, we should probably consider the possibility that Trump, like Pete Sessions, doesn’t seem altogether sure what a “witch hunt” is.

The president is likely embracing the idea that he’s been unjustly harassed for having unpopular political views, but that’s absurd. The federal investigation is about specific allegations of criminal wrongdoing, not Trump’s odd personal beliefs.

What’s more, at heart of the phrase is the fact that there’s no underlying wrongdoing. The “hunt” is baseless. The hunters are on the prowl, but they’re looking for villains who do not exist.

In the case of Trump’s Russia scandal, if federal investigators were looking for crimes that never occurred, this would certainly start to look like a witch hunt, but that’s no longer a credible rhetorical option available to the president and his allies.

As Rachel noted on Friday’s show, Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his team brought 89 new felony charges against 17 different people – just last week. Five of the accused, including the president’s own former White House national security advisor, have already pleaded guilty.

The point at which this probe could be described with a straight face as a “witch hunt” has long since passed.