Trump’s Threats Of Violence And His Money Problems Dominate His Campaign

Heather Cox Richardson

On Tuesday, March 26, Judge Juan Merchan, who is presiding over Trump’s election interference case, put Trump under a gag order to stop his attacks on court staff, prosecutors, jurors, and witnesses. On Wednesday, Trump renewed his attacks on the judge and the judge’s daughter. On Thursday, U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton took the unusual step of talking publicly about what threats of violence meant to the rule of law. Walton, who was appointed to the federal bench by President George W. Bush, told Kaitlan Collins of CNN that threats, especially threats to a judge’s family, undermine the ability of judges to carry out their duties. 

“I think it’s important in order to preserve our democracy that we maintain the rule of law,” Walton said. “And the rule of law can only be maintained if we have independent judicial officers who are able to do their job and ensure that the laws are, in fact, enforced and that the laws are applied equally to everybody who appears in our courthouse.” 

On Friday, former president Trump shared on social media a video of a truck with a decal showing President Joe Biden tied up and seemingly in the bed of the truck, in a position suggesting he was being kidnapped. 

A threat of violence has always been part of Trump’s political performance. In 2016 he urged rallygoers to “knock the crap out of” protesters, and they did. They also turned on people who weren’t protesters. Political scientists Ayal Feinberg, Regina Branton, and Valerie Martinez-Ebers studied the effects of Trump’s 2016 campaign rhetoric against marginalized Americans and found that counties where Trump held rallies had a significant increase in hate incidents in the month after that rally. 

Trump’s stoking of violence became an embrace when he declared there were “very fine people, on both sides,” after protesters stood up against racists, antisemites, white nationalists, Ku Klux Klan members, neo-Nazis, and other alt-right groups met in August 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia, where they shouted Nazi slogans and left 19 people injured and one protester, Heather Heyer, dead. 

In October 2020, Trump refused to denounce the far-right Proud Boys organization, instead telling its members to “stand back and stand by.” The Proud Boys turned out for the attack on the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, where they helped to lead those rioters fired up by Trump’s speech at The Ellipse, where he told them: “You’ll never take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength and you have to be strong. We have come to demand that Congress do the right thing…. And we fight. We fight like hell. And if you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.”

Trump’s appeals to violence have gotten even more overt since the events of January 6. 

And yet, on Meet the Press yesterday, Kristen Welker seemed to suggest that there is a general problem in U.S. politics when she described Trump’s attacks on Judge Merchan as “a reminder that we are covering this election against the backdrop of a deeply divided nation.”  

But are the American people deeply divided? Or have Trump and his MAGA supporters driven the Republican Party off the rails?

One of the major issues of the 2024 election—perhaps THE major issue—is reproductive rights. But Americans are not really divided on that issue: on Friday, a new Axios-Ipsos poll found that 81% of Americans agree that “abortion issues should be managed between a woman and her doctor, not the government.” That number includes 65% of Republicans, as well as 82% of Independents and 97% of Democrats. The idea that abortion should be between a woman and her doctor was the language of the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, overturned in 2022 with the help of the three extremist justices appointed by Trump. 

Last week, the Congressional Management Foundation, which works with Congress to make it more efficient and accountable, released its study of the state of Congress in 2024. It found that senior congressional staffers overwhelmingly think that Congress is not functioning “as a democratic legislature should.” Eighty percent of them think it is not “an effective forum for debate on questions of public concern.” 

But there is a significant difference in the parties’ perception of what’s wrong. While 61% of Republican staffers are satisfied that Congress members and staff feel safe doing their jobs, only 21% of Democratic staffers agree, and Democratic staffers are significantly more likely to fear for their and others’ safety. Women and longer-tenured staffers are more likely to be questioning whether to stay in Congress due to safety concerns. Eighty-four percent of Democratic staffers think that agreed-upon rules and codes of conduct for senators and representatives are not sufficient to “hold them accountable for their words and deeds,” while only 44% of Republicans say the same.

Republicans themselves seem split about the direction of their party. Republican staffers were far more likely than Democrats to be “questioning whether I should stay in Congress due to heated rhetoric from my party”: 59% to 16%. “The way the House is ‘functioning,’ is frustrating many members,” wrote one House Republican deputy chief of staff. “We have to placate [certain] members and in my nearly ten years of working here I have never felt more like we’re on the wrong track.” 

One Republican Senate communications director blamed extremist political rhetoric for the dysfunction. “[W]ith the nation being in a self-sort mode, it is easy to never hear a dissenting opinion in many areas of the country. People in DC, who work in the Capitol, generally have a collegiate approach to each other. The American people don’t get to see that—at all. From the outside it appears to be a Royal Rumble and bloodsport. It’s reflected in the [way] people, regular citizens, now view one another.” 

A Republican House staff director wrote that Congress is “a representative body and a reflection of the people writ large. When they demand something different of their leaders, their leaders will respond (or they will elect different leaders).”

Burgess Everett and Olivia Beavers of Politico reported yesterday that nearly 20 Republican lawmakers and aides have told them they would like Trump to calm down his rhetoric. They appear to think such violent commentary is unpopular and that it will hurt those running in downballot races if they have to answer for it.

It seems unlikely Trump will willingly temper his comments, since threatening violence seems to be all he has left to combat the legal cases bearing down on him. Over the course of Easter morning, he posted more than 70 times on social media, attacking his opponents and declaring himself to be “The Chosen One.”

Tonight, Trump posted a $175 million appeals bond in the New York civil fraud case. He was unable to secure a bond for the full amount of the judgment, but an appeals court lowered the amount. Posting the bond will let him appeal the judge’s decision. If he wins on appeal, he will avoid paying the judgment. If he loses, the bond is designed to guarantee that Trump will pay the entire amount the judge determined he owes to the people of New York: more than $454 million. 

Trump and his campaign are short of cash, and there were glimmers last week that the public launch of his media network would produce significant money if he could only hold off judgments until he could sell the stock—six months, according to the current agreement—or use his shares as collateral for a bond. The company’s public launch raised the stock price by billions of dollars. 

But this morning the company released its 2023 financial information, showing revenues of $4.1 million last year and a net loss of $58.2 million. The stock plunged about 20%, wiping out about $1 billion of the money that Trump had, on paper anyway, made. The company said it has not made any changes to the provision prohibiting early sales or using shares as collateral. 

Tonight, Judge Merchan expanded the previous gag order on Trump to stop attacks on the judge’s family members. Trump has a right “to speak to the American voters freely and to defend himself publicly,” but “[i]t is no longer just a mere possibility or a reasonable likelihood that there exists a threat to the integrity of the judicial proceedings,” Merchan wrote. “The threat is very real.”

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