Donald Trump rolled out of an appeals court hearing Tuesday to warn the country what would happen if the legal system holds him accountable for his potential criming. Trump—who is seeking presidential immunity from charges that he attempted to overthrow the government—promised “bedlam” across the country if his legal woes harm his 2024 campaign.
“I think they feel this is the way they’re going to try and win, and that’s not the way it goes,” Trump told reporters after the hearing, conflating U.S. prosecutors with his political rivals. “It’ll be bedlam in the country. It’s a very bad thing. It’s a very bad precedent. As we said, it’s the opening of a Pandora’s box.”
What Trump knows is that he can’t win the presidency without chaos. If everything is relatively stable under President Joe Biden, then why trade down for Trump?
And a Trump conviction will surely dent his chances of winning over swing voters. A December Reuters/Ipsos poll, for instance, found 59% of all voters said they would not vote for Trump if he’s convicted of a felony, including 31% of Republican voters. As any pollster will tell you, people are terrible at predicting their future actions. Nonetheless, that’s a tough road for a felon to hoe to the presidency, and Trump knows it.
So Trump is doing what he always does—play the victim—but he’s framing himself as the political victim of legal proceedings. So he’s not only wielding the specter of chaos, he’s also engineering it by painting himself and his cultists as the victims of supposedly corrupt, pro-Biden legal proceedings. Promising “bedlam” is icing on the cake. Trump must make voters feel that the country could unravel under Biden’s leadership and the remedy is electing a strongman like himself to keep things intact.
Chaos is the elixir that prods fearful, anxious Americans into voting for a candidate who promises order, despite the fascism that will surely come with it.
Pay attention: Trump is working overtime to engineer the conditions that will make his victory possible. And if people die in the process, as they did during the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection, Trump has a well-documented “so what?” attitude about the sacrifices others make on his behalf.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include video of Trump’s comments.