Trump downplays seriousness of kidnapping plot against governor

Exactly two years ago this week, Trump suggested he didn't much care about a plot targeting Americans he doesn't like. Yesterday, he did it again.
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Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer speaks in Lansing on Oct. 8, 2020, after it was announced that charges had been brought against members of militia groups who were preparing to kidnap the governor.Michigan Office of the Governor via AP

It was two years ago this week that a Florida man was taken into custody and charged with sending pipe bombs to critics of Donald Trump, including several prominent Democratic leaders. The president responded soon after in ways that revealed his character in unfortunate ways.

In fact, the day in which the suspected terrorist was arrested, Trump complained publicly that coverage of "this 'bomb' stuff" was interfering with his political party's election-season messaging. The Republican, trying to rally support for his party ahead of the 2018 midterm elections, proceeded to lash out at Democrats, including those targeted by the bomber.

Asked if he was prepared to "tone down" his rhetoric under the circumstances, Trump replied, "I could really tone it up." The president added that he could reach out to the Americans who were targeted by the bombs, but he preferred to "pass."

Almost exactly two years later, ahead of another Election Day, the Republican incumbent traveled to Michigan, where he continued to condemn Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D), despite a recently thwarted plot in which a group of extremists allegedly planned to kidnap and execute the Democratic governor. At a rally last week, Trump downplayed the seriousness of the plot, telling his followers, "I guess they say she was threatened."

Yesterday, the president returned to Michigan, and as the Detroit News reported, he went a little further in this direction.

In Lansing on Tuesday, Trump noted that his appointees — the U.S. attorneys for Detroit and Grand Rapids — filed the charges against six of the 14 defendants who are accused in the alleged kidnapping scheme. But the president seemed to question the strength of the cases. "It was our people that helped her out with her problem," the president said. "We'll have to see if it's a problem, right? People are entitled to say maybe it was a problem, maybe it wasn't."

I wish this were more surprising. I wish it seemed more extraordinary that a sitting American president, two weeks after the plot was exposed and thwarted, suggested to supporters that "maybe it wasn't" a problem that armed radicals hoped to kidnap and murder an American governor.

But this is our civic life now. Indeed, Trump's fans in Michigan chanted, "Lock her up" in reference to Whitmer again yesterday, and he made no effort to discourage them.

At this point two years ago, the president suggested he didn't much care about a plot targeting Americans he doesn't like. As Election Day 2020 nears, Trump appears to have done it again.