Former President Trump prompted backlash for comparing his political enemies to “vermin” who needed to be exposed, with critics drawing comparisons to dictators from decades ago.
Trump, in a Veterans Day speech in New Hampshire, pledged to “root out … the radical left thugs that live like vermin within the confines of our country,” the latest in a growing line of increasingly incendiary comments about his political opponents heading into the 2024 election.
The former president warned the audience of supporters that “the threat from outside forces is far less sinister, dangerous and grave than the threat from within. Our threat is from within. Because if you have a capable, competent, smart, tough leader, Russia, China, North Korea, they’re not going to want to play with us.”
Democrats and even some Republicans expressed alarm over Trump’s comments, equating them to the type of rhetoric used by dictators during World War II and suggesting it was a sign of how Trump would conduct himself if elected to a second term in the White House.
The Trump campaign dismissed the criticism. But the “vermin” comment is just the latest in a growing string of remarks that have raised alarms for Trump’s critics.
“On a weekend when most Americans were honoring our nation’s heroes, Donald Trump parroted the autocratic language of Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini — two dictators many U.S. veterans gave their lives fighting, in order to defeat exactly the kind of un-American ideas Trump now champions,” Biden campaign spokesperson Ammar Moussa said in a statement.
White House spokesperson Andrew Bates similarly said the comments echoed Hitler and Mussolini, suggesting Trump’s language “would be unrecognizable to our founders, but horrifyingly recognizable to American veterans who put on their country’s uniform in the 1940s.”
Jim Messina, who managed President Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign, described Trump’s remarks as “from the same authoritarian propaganda playbook” used by dictators.
Trump’s comments, which he also posted on Truth Social on Saturday, come as he’s leading the Republican presidential primary contest by an average of nearly 60 percentage points. A slew of recent polls have shown him leading President Biden in several key battleground states that will likely determine the outcome of the 2024 race.
The Trump campaign rejected comparisons between Trump and old dictators, with spokesperson Steven Cheung saying in a statement that “those who try to make that ridiculous assertion are clearly snowflakes grasping for anything because they are suffering from Trump Derangement Syndrome and their entire existence will be crushed when President Trump returns to the White House.”
His denigration of his political rivals as “vermin” forced Republicans into the familiar, uncomfortable position of having to try and defend Trump, the front-runner to be on the party’s presidential ticket next year.
Republican National Committee (RNC) chair Ronna McDaniel was asked on multiple Sunday morning shows about the remarks, and she declined to condemn or directly address the former president’s language.
“I’m not going to talk about candidates that are in a contested primary. That’s — you can talk to him about what he’s saying,” McDaniel said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
Former Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), one of the most outspoken Trump critics in the GOP, wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter, that Trump was using “the same Nazi propaganda that mobilized 1930s-40s Germany to evil.” She added that history would judge “every Republican who is appeasing this dangerous man.”
Prior to Saturday’s remarks, Trump has spoken fondly of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who has been accused of rolling back democratic norms, and he has praised the leadership of Chinese President Xi Jinping, whom Biden has described as a “dictator.”
Trump has in recent days also hinted at what could be waiting for his political opponents if he returns to the White House. At a Florida rally last week, Trump told supporters he would be allowed to investigate Biden since he himself was indicted, and he pledged to have the Justice Department “investigate every Marxist prosecutor in America.”
And in a Truth Social post Monday, he attacked special counsel Jack Smith and Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco as “deranged” and suggested they would end up in a “Mental Institution” by the end of his next term because they suffer from “Trump Derangement Syndrome.”
“I don’t really think that pitting Americans against each other is going to help us in a time when a lot of people are suffering, and that’s what this type of rhetoric is aimed to do,” said Sarah Matthews, a former Trump White House and campaign spokesperson.
“And I think him using this kind of increasingly erratic rhetoric, it just doesn’t seem to penetrate through as much in Americans’ minds because they’re so used to him saying these kinds of crazy things,” she added. “And that’s what’s concerning.”