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Trump says some migrants are 'not people' and warns of a 'bloodbath' if he loses

SCOTT DETROW, HOST:

Last night, former President Donald Trump held a rally in Ohio, and over the course of it, he said a lot of inflammatory things. Now, that is a sentence you could have heard at any point over the past nine years, and you've heard it so often that it's not necessarily news anymore when Trump says something alarming or threatening. And that is actually the point of what we want to talk about now. In Ohio on Saturday night, during a prolonged diatribe on electric vehicles, the presumptive Republican nominee said this...

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DONALD TRUMP: Now, if I don't get elected, it's going to be a bloodbath for the whole - that's going to be the least of it. It's going to be a bloodbath for the country. That'll be the least of it.

DETROW: A bloodbath - to talk about this and how Trump's statements have gotten more and more extreme over the course of his three campaigns, I'm joined by Brendan Nyhan, a political scientist at Dartmouth who's closely tracked Trump's rhetoric over the years. Thanks for joining us.

BRENDAN NYHAN: My pleasure. Thank you for having me.

DETROW: So I want to start with the context here because I think that also gets to some of the broader trends that we've seen with Trump. Now, right before that statement, he was talking about the auto industry and tariff policies he wants to put in place, and the campaign says that is what the bloodbath comment was about. But that seems familiar to me in that you have this pattern, often, of a provocative threat, but it's couched in a way that you can say, well, it really wasn't a threat. You're misinterpreting it.

NYHAN: That's right. Trump often relies on plausible deniability. It's important to make clear that the bloodbath comment was in the context of a discussion of the auto industry, but it's also hard not to be worried when a president who inspired a violent insurrection and often explicitly endorses political violence is using language like that. We have very good reason to fear another January 6 if he loses this election, and that language communicated that threat in a way that I think resonated with people, even if the context was in part lost.

DETROW: Right. And, you know, Trump started the rally last night like he regularly does, embracing the people who attacked the Capitol on January 6, calling them political hostages, saying he will pardon them. It's fair to say that stances like that, and of course, the events themselves, really do make these threats more serious when it comes to him talking about the election.

NYHAN: Absolutely. He's being very clear about what he is and how he's running. The campaign we're seeing is right out of the textbooks of what an authoritarian demagogue looks like and sounds like. He's calling his opponents vermin. He's describing migrants as subhuman animals and promising to put millions of them in camps. He's pledging to shut down the investigations into himself and his political allies, who were imprisoned for trying to overthrow the last election. What we're seeing could not be more clear. Most people don't pay very close attention to politics, and it's easy to lose sight of that in the day to day.

DETROW: You mentioned talking about people as subhuman. That happened again last night. Let's listen to it.

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TRUMP: If you call them people - I don't know if you call them people. In some cases, they're not people, in my opinion, but I'm not allowed to say that because the radical left says that's a terrible thing to say.

DETROW: Trump's talking about immigrants there. Can you put that into the historical context?

NYHAN: Well, it's the kind of language we've seen in countries that have ethnic violence, in countries that have ethnonationalist leaders coming to power and worse, and what's especially worrisome is Trump is not backing away. Just this morning, he was asked directly on Fox about this language, you know, about the language that immigrants are poisoning the blood of the country, which echoes Hitler and other dictators, and he refused to back away from that statement. It should be shocking to us, and, you know, we should be shocked that we're not shocked at the kinds of things we're seeing almost every day now.

DETROW: I've noticed you've been increasingly critical of how the media covers all of this, and I'll say we have a lot of debates in the newsroom here at NPR over when and how to cover remarks like this. What is your advice?

NYHAN: I think it's important to communicate to voters exactly what is at stake in this election, and experts who study democracy and its downfall all around the world perceive that risk. They perceive that threat. It's important to keep communicating that, and the day-to-day approach to news coverage can often lose sight of that.

The horse-race-style coverage we often see is flattening. There's just one candidate and another. This candidate's old. That candidate's old. And those kinds of comparisons can make the candidates seem equivalent, but they're just not. There's all kinds of things you can say about Joe Biden, about his failures, about his age. You can go on, but he is not threatening American democracy itself. And that isn't and shouldn't be a partisan statement, and political journalism needs to be able to reflect that.

DETROW: That's Brendan Nyhan, a political scientist at Dartmouth. Thanks so much.

NYHAN: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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