Donald Trump’s playbook: Paranoid appeals, attacks on everyone

No one is beyond his attacks. And his fire-breathing followers love him for it, even as they pretend to fret that they will become the targets of everyone else, just because Trump says so.

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A supporter of former U.S. President Donald Trump tumbles to the ground on top of a banner criticizing him outside the courthouse where Trump was arraigned on April 4 in New York City.

A supporter of Donald Trump tumbles to the ground on top of a banner criticizing him outside the Manhattan courthouse where Trump arrived later in the day for his arraignment on April 4.

Drew Angerer/Getty

In the wake of nearly every investigation, from his two impeachments, to the FBI raid on Mar-a-Lago for classified documents, to his arrest and arraignment this week for hush money payments, Donald Trump continually promises that you will be the next target of the corrupt government, the deep state, the Democrats, the media, the intelligence community and whomever else he’s made a convenient bogeyman.

“If this political persecution goes unchallenged,” he wrote in a fundraising email last month, “one day it won’t be me they’re targeting…It’ll be you.”

“They’re not coming after me,” he said, “They’re coming after you. I’m just standing in their way, and I will always stand in their way!” It sounds ominous, but in addition to this being his favorite line, it’s also his favorite lie.

It’s safe to say that unless you also hoarded top secret classified documents at your summer home office, you probably aren’t going to be targeted by the FBI.

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And unless you also paid a porn star hush money to cover up an affair weeks before a presidential election, the Manhattan district attorney probably isn’t coming after you either.

And unless you also called up a foreign head of state and asked him to dig up dirt on your presidential opponent, or called the Georgia secretary of state and asked him to find more votes in a democratic election, or incited a violent mob to storm the Capitol in hopes of overturning that election, the Justice Department probably isn’t coming for you.

No matter, though. The fear-mongering message is a go-to for an embattled former president who is very much the target of several criminal investigations. That’s not because everyone else is corrupt, but because Trump is.

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The line is of course meant to gin up his base, get them angry and agitated on his behalf — and it’s worked. We saw on Jan. 6, 2021, just how well his threats worked on his supporters, who staged a violent insurrection that resulted in multiple deaths and injuries.

He’s hoping it will work again, now that he’s been charged on 34 felony counts of falsifying business records. Convincing his rabid and impressionable followers that “they could be next” is disingenuous and utterly stupid, but inarguably effective.

But the thing is, it’s Trump who is doing the targeting, not the other way around.

Targeting everyday people

Trump has gone after ordinary citizens who have nothing to do with his investigations. Most recently he’s attacked the wife and family of the judge who will rule on his hush money case. Just hours after that very judge told Trump not to incite violence or use threatening rhetoric, Trump spoke from Mar-a-Lago and did just that. “I have a Trump-hating judge with a Trump-hating wife and family, whose daughter worked for Kamala Harris and now receives money from the Biden-Harris campaign, and a lot of it.”

In the days after District Attorney Alvin Bragg hinted at a potential indictment, Trump went after him and his family, too, calling him a “degenerate psychopath that truely [sic] hates the USA.”

“But, at least he can tell his Trump hating wife and friends that he is going after the very successful 45th president of the United States,” he wrote on Truth Social.

He’s called Bragg “human scum,” threatened “death and destruction” if he is charged, and shared an image of Trump wielding a baseball bat next to a picture of Bragg’s head.

He’s told advisers that he’s prepared to escalate those attacks on Bragg, promising to “rough ‘em up,” despite the fact that Bragg has had to contend with death threats, and even received a threatening letter with a white powder substance at his office.

This is Trump’s playbook and always has been. No one is beyond his attacks. He’s gone after journalists, military leaders, intelligence officers, doctors and scientists, prisoners of war, American soldiers, the wives of political opponents, countless women, even children.

And his fire-breathing followers love him for it, even as they pretend to fret that they will become the targets of everyone else, just because Trump says so.

Sure, his attacks are reckless. Yes, they’ve led to real violence, and could lead to more. But this won’t stop Trump from blasting his enemies, real and imagined. Nor will it spare ordinary people, even friends and family members, from becoming targets in his relentless and narcissistic war of attrition.

It’s Trump who is the threatening menace to society, not the Manhattan DA, the FBI, the DOJ, or anyone else. But remember, you will be next — if you cross Trump, that is.

S.E. Cupp is the host of “S.E. Cupp Unfiltered” on CNN.

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