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‘A lot of vitriol’: Lawmakers fret over tone of Trump-Biden rematch

‘In some cases, they’re not people,’ former president said of migrants

President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump have kicked off the general election campaign with sharp words for each other.
President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump have kicked off the general election campaign with sharp words for each other. (Photos by Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call and Kamil Krazaczynski/Getty Images)

ANALYSIS — Lawmakers are concerned about the tone of the presidential general election, with one Republican senator warning it reflects a troubling mood from sea to shining sea.

Former President Donald Trump, the presumed GOP nominee, on Saturday warned of a “bloodbath” if he is not elected. The presumed Democratic nominee, President Joe Biden, has more frequently referred to Trump as “a loser” and a proponent of political violence.

As Trump and Biden continued trading sharp words on the trail, lawmakers have taken notice — though the general election campaign is, technically, just a week old. Both Trump and Biden last week clinched their nominations, but both must still be formalized during their parties’ nominating conventions this summer.

Saturday evening offered the latest examples of the presidential candidates lobbing rhetorical grenades.

“Now, if I don’t get elected, it’s going to be a bloodbath. That’s going to be the least of it,” Trump said Saturday during a rally near Dayton, Ohio, after saying a Biden win would mean economic calamity. “It’s going to be a bloodbath for the country.” He also told loyalists there that if he loses in November, for unspecified reasons, it would be the last election in U.S. history.

“If this election isn’t won, I’m not sure that you’ll ever have another election in this country,” said Trump, wearing a bright red “Make America Great Again” ballcap with his signature blue suit, sans his also-signature red necktie.

That came after Trump led off the rally paying tribute to those Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol rioters who have been hit with criminal charges, calling them “hostages.”

Hours later, during the annual Gridiron Club and Foundation Dinner in Washington, D.C, a tuxedoed Biden took direct aim at Trump.

“One candidate’s too old and mentally unfit to be president,” he said of the general election rematch. “The other guy’s me.” But it was a campaign surrogate who had the Biden team’s harshest words for Trump.

“This is who Donald Trump is: a loser who gets beat by over 7 million votes and then instead of appealing to a wider mainstream audience doubles down on his threats of political violence,” Biden campaign spokesman James Singer said in a statement.

“He wants another Jan. 6,” the spokesman added, “but the American people are going to give him another electoral defeat this November because they continue to reject his extremism, his affection for violence and his thirst for revenge.”

That came several hours after the 77-year-old Trump’s Truth Social account posted a video of Biden being led inside by an aide, with a narrator singing a jingle suggesting the 81-year-old president should be in an assisted living facility.

Some lawmakers have not been impressed, even before Saturday’s candidate remarks, with the tone the general election already is taking on — and one expressed deep concerns.

“I think it’s kind of where we’re at as a country. It’s so evenly divided,” GOP Sen. Mike Braun, who opted against seeking a second term to run for Indiana governor, said last Thursday. “It’s got a lot of vitriol in the conversation. I hear frustration across the board, in terms of how … we have evolved into this.

“Whoever comes out on top, better get busy,” he said, adding his concerns about Capitol Hill dynamics: “It’s kind of become an unholy alliance and it’s dysfunctional — I think whoever gets it has got a chance to, maybe, redeem themselves with the American public and if not, who knows where this place goes.”

Braun last Thursday pinned a chunk of the blame on Democrats, saying they are too focused on spending taxpayers’ dollars, and risk “bankrupting us over time.” But he also called on his fellow Republicans to “be more engaged in real issues that people think are important.”

Senate Armed Services Chairman Jack Reed, D-R.I., was less bipartisan in saying which side he believes is most responsible for the general election’s early nasty tone.

“I think former President Trump has lowered the level of debate significantly, by the things he says consistently,” Reed said, pointing first to Trump’s repeated vow to “be a dictator on day one,” to somehow seal the U.S.-Mexico border and order more domestic oil and gas drilling.

“You know, how [Trump] disparages people, making fun of them. And not just the president, but many, many others,” Reed said, giving Biden high marks for what Republicans called a divisive and “angry” State of the Union address.

“Frankly, you know, there’s been criticism that he’s not vigorous enough. Well, he showed them he’s quite vigorous, and you know, he was engaged,” Reed said. “He was able to respond to some criticism on the [House] floor. He was able to, quite literally, quote things that Donald Trump has said consistently.”

‘They’re not people’

The candidates have not been the only ones setting the early general election tone. Protesters who have objected to Biden’s handling of the Israel-Hamas war — specifically Israel’s deadly counteroffensive inside Gaza — have not pulled many punches during presidential events or when protesting along his motorcade routes.

“Hey hey, ho ho, ‘Genocide Joe’ has got to go,” pro-Palestinian protesters chanted last week during a Biden visit to Milwaukee.

That message is powerful for Arab Americans. Words uttered by the former president Saturday in Ohio conjured memories of his 2016 White House bid, during which his comments about Central and South American migrants rankled Latinos and many Democrats.

“I don’t know if you call them people,” Trump told his supporters. “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.”

While Biden did during his State of the Union address use the often-derisive term “illegal” to describe a Venezuelan man accused of murdering University of Georgia student Laken Riley, his messages about migrants typically are vastly more positive than Trump’s. He hinted Saturday night at a positive reelection message, but one that will not shy away from offering his assessment of Trump’s handling as president of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Biden said he and Vice President Kamala Harris soon will begin making a case to voters about “how we got through the pandemic, turned around the economy, reestablished American leadership in the world — all without encouraging the American people to inject bleach.”

That was yet another dig at Trump, who on April 23, 2020, stood in the White House briefing room and suggested Americans, via an “injection,” use “disinfectant” to attack the deadly virus.

Biden was not finished: “Or without destroying the economy, embarrassing us around the world or itching for insurrection. Look, I wish these were jokes, but they’re not.”

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