If there has been one recurrent theme of the Republican National Convention so far, it is that Hillary Clinton is a lying, crooked criminal who should be sent to prison. Indeed, the dominant mantra of the last two days has been the chant “lock her up.”
This kind of delegitimizing rhetoric is certainly not new and has been regularly levied at President Obama for the past eight years. On Tuesday, however, that incendiary language took a dark and dangerous turn.
Al Baldasaro, a Republican state representative from New Hampshire and a Trump delegate, called Clinton a “piece of garbage.” Because of how she handled Benghazi as well as classified material on her e-mail account, he said she should be “put in the firing line and shot for treason.”
Baldasaro is not some marginal figure in Trump’s world. He advises the candidate on veterans issues and he’s appeared with Trump at numerous events, including an incendiary press conference in New York, in May, in which Trump attacked reporters and called one a sleaze.
In a normal political environment, Baldasaro’s words would be swiftly condemned and he’d be sent home to New Hampshire. Since we don’t live in a normal political environment, we get comments like this from Hope Hicks, Trump’s campaign spokeswoman, “We’re incredibly grateful for his support, but we don’t agree with his comments.” She also helpfully added, “Mr. Trump does not feel this way.”
This is not good enough.
Quite simply, there is no possible way that calling for the execution of a presidential candidate is remotely acceptable — and it needs to be condemned without equivocation.
Of course, this isn’t the first time that the Trump campaign has incited violence. We saw it in the spring at political rallies in which Trump said he’d like to punch political protesters in the face; and in which he agreed to pay the legal fees of those who did just that. What’s more, this isn’t the first time that a Republican presidential candidate has accused Democrats of treason. Regularly during the GOP primary campaign, Marco Rubio asserted that Barack Obama willfully and purposely violated the Constitution.
But Rubio and Trump never contemplated or spoke about potential violence against rival political figures.
While there were will be an inclination to dismiss this as political rhetoric run amok, one must not ignore the potential impact of Baldasaro’s words and the lack of strong condemnation from the Trump campaign.
Think for a second about the cumulative impact of the constant denunciations of Clinton as a criminal, a felon, and even a traitor. Think about the false assertions that she has imperiled national security and that she left American soldiers to die on foreign land. Now imagine how these words could be interpreted by individuals both prone to violence and also well-armed. The thought is mildly terrifying, and even if the inflammatory rhetoric doesn’t encourage violence, it will so poison the political waters that Clinton will be viewed by a good portion of the country as fundamentally illegitimate. By failing to condemn these statements, Trump is giving them an air of legitimacy.
As we’ve seen over the first few days of this convention, the GOP is moving to an increasingly dark and disturbing place on the American political spectrum. An entire political party and its presidential standard-bearer are using the kind of language that risks encouraging violence against a presidential candidate. Now a member of the party is talking about specific violent acts that should be committed against her — and the party’s presidential nominee can’t find it in himself, at least so far, to condemn it.
Be afraid, America. Be very afraid.
Michael A. Cohen’s column appears regularly in the Globe. Follow him on Twitter @speechboy71.