Targeting Whitmer, Trump eyes someone else he's ready to 'lock up'

Armed extremists plotted to capture and execute Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. Trump is going on the offensive against the radicals' target.
Image: Gretchen Whitmer
Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer at the Romney Building where her office is located in Lansing, Mich., on May 18, 2020.Brittany Greeson / for The Washington Post via Getty Images file

It's been nearly two weeks since state and federal law enforcement announced charges against a group of radicals who plotted to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D). The violent plot reportedly included plans to bring the governor to a "secure location," where the alleged attackers would subject her to a faux "trial" and accuse her of treason.

When the public learned of the threat, Whitmer received calls and support from a variety of other governors from both parties. Donald Trump, however, responded in a more Trumpian fashion.

The day in which the governor's alleged attackers were charged, the president lashed out at Whitmer, complaining that she's done "a terrible job" and is "doing is a horrible thing to the people" of Michigan. He added that the governor failed to sufficiently thank him for the Justice Department's role in thwarting the planned attack.

In the days that followed, Trump accused Whitmer of wanting to "be a dictator in Michigan." Over the weekend, as the Detroit Free Press reported, the president kept the offensive going.

At Saturday's rally at Muskegon County Airport in west Michigan, Trump reiterated his criticism of Whitmer and her handling of the virus, saying, "You've got to get your governor to open up your state, OK?" The enthusiastic crowd responded by chanting "lock her up," a refrain that Trump used in regards to another woman, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, his Democratic rival in 2016. On Saturday, when the crowd took up the chant, Trump laughed and responded, "Lock them all up."

The president referred briefly to the kidnapping plot, though he seemed eager to downplay the seriousness of the violent plot. "I guess they say she was threatened," the Republican told supporters.

We're talking about a thwarted plot in which armed extremists planned to capture and execute a sitting American governor. If Trump had adopted a position of passive indifference, that would've been tough to defend, but instead the president has gone in an even more outlandish direction, launching an offensive against the radicals' target.

Indeed, Trump's choice of words and phrases -- "dictator," "lock them all up," etc. -- is likely to make a dangerous situation considerably worse. As we recently discussed, after learning of the plot in Michigan, the president could've turned down the volume, at least when it came to Whitmer, but he can't seem to help himself.

Accused of contributing to a toxic political climate that leads to greater division and violence, the Republican seemed eager to prove his critics right.

Appearing on "Meet the Press" yesterday, the Democratic governor told NBC News' Chuck Todd, "It's incredibly disturbing that the president of the United States -- 10 days after a plot to kidnap, put me on trial and execute me -- 10 days after that was uncovered, the president is at it again and inspiring and incentivizing and inciting this kind of domestic terrorism."

Whitmer added, "It's wrong. It's got to end. It's dangerous, not just for me and my family, but for public servants everywhere who are doing their jobs and trying to protect their fellow Americans. People of good will on both sides of the aisle need to step up and call this out."