Following thwarted kidnapping plot, Trump slams Michigan governor

Was it surprising to see Trump go after a governor who'd been targeted by extremists in a kidnapping plot? Not really. Was it extraordinary anyway? Yes.
Image: Gov. Gretchen Whitmer
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer speaks in Lansing on Aug. 5, 2020.Michigan Office of the Governor via AP

State and federal law enforcement yesterday announced charges against a group of Michigan radicals who plotted to, among other things, kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D). The governor spoke publicly on the thwarted plot, and reminded the public that Donald Trump has fueled repeatedly extremists with hateful rhetoric.

If ever there was a time for the president and his team to condemn violent, right-wing militants, this was it. And yet, Team Trump apparently decided that the appropriate way to respond to the developments in Michigan was to chastise the governor who'd been targeted by the extremists.

The offensive started in earnest yesterday afternoon, when Jason Miller, a controversial spokesperson for the Trump campaign, appeared on Fox News to denounce Whitmer, telling viewers the governor "wakes up every day with such hatred in her heart for President Trump." A White House statement issued soon after accused the Michigan Democrat of "sowing division."

Naturally, the president proceeded to tweet about the matter, insisting that Whitmer -- the target of the kidnapping plot -- has done "a terrible job." Trump added that the governor should be thanking him -- "My Justice Department" helped prevent the attack, he wrote -- before complaining that Whitmer is still doing too much to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

And to top things off, the president kept the offensive going on Fox News last night:

"I see Whitmer today. She's complaining, but it was our Justice Department that arrested the people that she was complaining about. It was my Justice Department that arrested them. But, instead, she goes and does her little political act. And she keeps her state closed.... What she's doing is a horrible thing to the people."

The fact that Trump is attacking a Democratic governor is not surprising. The fact that Trump is attacking her on the same day in which we learned of an extremist plot to kidnap her says something important about the president's instincts, political acumen, and character.

The irony is: what Whitmer effectively asked Trump to do yesterday was stop fueling radicals -- which was hardly an unreasonable appeal given the frequency with which the president's rhetoric dovetails with those who rationalize political violence.

But after learning of the violent plot in Michigan, Trump didn't turn down the volume; he ratcheted up his contempt for the extremists' target. Accused of contributing to a toxic political climate that leads to greater division and violence, the Republican seemed eager to prove his critics right.