Editor’s Note: Dean Obeidallah, a former attorney, is the host of SiriusXM radio’s daily program “The Dean Obeidallah Show” and a columnist for The Daily Beast. Follow him @DeanObeidallah. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own. View more opinion articles on CNN.
Joe Biden’s exasperated comment summed up what so many of us feel. “What the hell’s the matter with this guy?” said Biden Friday of Donald Trump’s continuing attacks on Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, even after the recent announcement of an alleged right-wing terrorist plot to kidnap and possibly kill her. “It’s despicable,” said Biden.
On Saturday, Trump made it worse. He held a rally in Muskegon, Michigan, about 40 miles from where the plot against Whitmer was allegedly hatched in the basement of a store in Grand Rapids. Trump ginned up more anger towards Whitmer by falsely stating that Michigan was currently “locked up, locked down and closed up for business” because of Covid-19. (The toughest restrictions ended months ago.) Did Trump condemn the 14 rightwingers – some of them members of a local armed group called the Wolverine Watchmen – arrested with plotting to kill her? Of course not.
What Trump lacks in compassion and empathy, he makes up for with cruelty and vindictiveness. That’s the only way his latest conduct can be viewed given it was just a week ago that the FBI told us of the alleged plot. The charges paint a jaw-dropping plan that included tactical training at a home adorned with a Confederate flag, surveillance of Whitmer’s house – a mother of two daughters and three step-sons – and plans to use explosive devices. And the defendants’ words about Whitmer, per the authorities, should make your hair stand on end. Examples: “Have one person go to her house. Knock on the door and when she answers it just cap her … at this point. F**k it.” Another stated, “Snatch and grab, man. Grab the f**kin’ Governor. Just grab the bitch. Because at that point, we do that, dude – it’s over.”
Trump and Whitmer have had disputes in the past, from Whitmer slamming Trump for failing to provide the state with supplies needed to deal with the Covid-19 outbreak to Trump tweeting in April to “liberate” the state – presumably from the governor’s shutdown. After the arrests, Whitmer took aim at Trump, saying his words were a “rallying cry” for extremists and that he was “stoking distrust, fomenting anger and giving comfort to those who spread fear and hatred and division.”
Trump – who prides himself on being a “counter puncher” – has responded with a drumbeat of attacks against Whitmer. One of his most irresponsible comments came Thursday on Fox Business, where Trump claimed Whitmer “wants to be a dictator” by closing down the state. In essence, this could be seen as a similar sentiment to the “tyrant” comment allegedly made by the men charged with plotting to kidnap Whitmer.
Then came Trump’s rally Saturday in Michigan, where he attacked Whitmer for trying to save lives from a pandemic that Trump himself has horribly failed to address adequately. Trump told his supporters, “You’ve got to get your governor to open up your state, OK?” And in response, the audience broke out into a chant of, “Lock her up!” Did Trump stop the crowd? Of course not. Instead, Trump laughed and then stated, “Lock them all up.”
Trump also despicably downplayed the terror plot against Whitmer, saying, “I guess they say she was threatened.” “I guess” she was threatened?! The defendants were charged by federal and state officials. Trump went on to slam Whitmer – who said he’d encouraged domestic terrorists – for blaming him for the plot, leading to his followers again chanting, “Lock her up.”
Shortly after Trump’s event, Whitmer responded by attaching a video clip of Trump at his rally, writing, “This is exactly the rhetoric that has put me, my family, and other government officials’ lives in danger while we try to save the lives of our fellow Americans,” adding, “It needs to stop.”
Even the Republican Michigan House Speaker Lee Chatfield, who attended the rally, criticized the “Lock her up” chant, tweeting it was “wrong,” and claiming that “no, Trump didn’t chant ‘lock her up’ about our Governor.” “She was literally just targeted. Let’s debate differences,” said Chatfield of Whitmer. “Let’s win elections. But not that.”
Trump will do anything to win in 2020, apparently including inciting more hate against a governor who, according to the FBI, was the target of an assassination plot. There seems to be no bottom to Trump. As Biden so rightly put it: “What the hell’s the matter with this guy?”