At Donald Trump's official re-election campaign launch last year, the president excoriated Hillary Clinton seven times in 30 minutes. After the event wrapped up, a conservative commentator appeared on Fox News and marveled at the degree to which Trump "absolutely blistered Hillary Clinton."
And while there was certainly some truth to that, a relevant detail went unstated: Clinton wasn't a candidate anymore.
All of this came to mind watching Trump on Friday at an official, taxpayer-financed event in Florida, where the president invoked "Crooked Hillary," leading his followers in attendance to start the "lock her up" chant that was popular with the far-right four years ago. The Republican incumbent, indifferent to the fact that this was an official White House event, quickly endorsed the crowd's reaction.
"I agree with you. I used to just be quiet. I agree with you 100 percent."
Soon after, the president held a rally in Georgia, where he called for the incarceration of his political opponents, including his rival from four years ago.
"Lock them up. You should lock them up. Lock up the Bidens. Lock up Hillary."
Yesterday, at a Nevada rally, Trump devoted some time to discussing Hillary Clinton's emails, asking, in apparent reference to federal law enforcement, "I just want to know, why aren't they looking at that?"
It's against this backdrop that the president is pushing Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to uncover and release Clinton emails ahead of Election Day, while simultaneously lobbying Attorney General Bill Barr to prosecute Clinton for reasons unknown. (Trump demanded to know during a recent Fox Business interview, "Why isn't Hillary Clinton being indicted?")
The former secretary of State, who left public office nearly eight years ago, spoke at an event in Chicago in 2017 and said of Republicans, "It appears they don't know I'm not president." Three years later, she could just as easily say, "It appears they don't know I'm not a candidate."
Much has been said of late on the similarities of Team Trump's message in 2016 and 2020, but this appears to be a rather literal example of the phenomenon. The president doesn't seem to know what to say about Joe Biden; running against Kamala Harris wasn't a realistic option; Barack Obama is the nation's most popular figure; and so the Republican incumbent seems determined to devote an extraordinary amount of his closing message to railing against a former cabinet secretary who isn't on the ballot.