Headlines blaring warnings about how a second Trump presidency could slip toward dictatorship on Monday prompted a stiff pushback from allies of the ex-president, who is topping GOP primary polls just weeks before the Iowa caucuses.
The Washington Post, The Atlantic and The New York Times each published stories referencing a “Trump dictatorship” in recent days, arguing a new Trump presidency posed a threat to democracy. The Times wrote a second Trump term likely would be more radical than his first.
“All of these articles calling Trump a dictator are about one thing: legitimizing illegal and violent conduct as we get closer to the election,” Sen. JD Vance (R-Ohio), a Trump ally, wrote on X, formerly Twitter. “Everyone needs to take a chill pill.”
“It’s August 2016 all over again. Skyrocketing cost of health care has millions worried. President Trump’s Dem. opponent off the campaign trail & hiding from the press,” senior Trump adviser Jason Miller wrote on X.
“Dems & their media allies have given up on debating issues & have shifted to name-calling & rhetorical fearmongering,” he added.
The Atlantic announced Monday the magazine’s January/February issue would be dedicated to what a second Trump term would mean for immigration, civil rights, the Justice Department, climate and more. The magazine’s editor-in-chief, Jeffrey Goldberg, wrote an editor’s note titled, “A Warning,” to introduce the series.
The New York Times on Monday published its latest piece in a series focused on what a second Trump term might mean for the country. In it, the reporters noted Trump’s rhetoric on the campaign trail “has attracted growing alarm and comparisons to historical fascist dictators and contemporary populist strongmen.”
And a Washington Post opinion column penned by editor-at-large Robert Kagan headlined, “A Trump dictatorship is increasingly inevitable. We should stop pretending,” made an extensive case that Trump’s reelection could feasibly set the U.S. on a path to becoming a dictatorship.
Trump allies dismissed the pileup as the latest instance of media outlets opposing the former president, who routinely derides the press as “fake news” and previously called some journalists the “enemy of the people.”
“This is nothing more than another version of the media’s failed and false Russia collusion hoax,” Trump campaign spokesman Steven Cheung said of The Atlantic project, claiming the magazine “will be out of business soon because nobody will read that trash.”
Several Trump allies in Congress also took aim at the recent spate of headlines suggesting Trump could rule like a dictator.
Rep. Mike Waltz (R-Fla.), addressing The Atlantic piece, accused the left of using “the same hysterical scare tactics from 2016 & 2020 to attack Trump.”
Rep. Wesley Hunt (R-Texas), referencing The Washington Post column, claimed the left had gone into “FULL PANIC Mode” and suggested another Trump term would mean “the end of dictators in America, NOT the beginning.”
But news outlets and opinion columnists are not alone in suggesting another Trump presidency could have catastrophic consequences for American democracy.
“I think it’s a very, very real threat and concern,” former Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), an outspoken Trump critic, told NBC’s “Today” on Monday when asked about the risk of the U.S. becoming a dictatorship under Trump.
“And I don’t say any of that lightly and frankly, it’s painful for me as someone who has spent her whole life in Republican politics, who grew up as a Republican to watch what’s happening to my party and to watch the extent to which Donald Trump himself has basically determined that the only thing that matters is him, his power and his success,” she added.
Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), who, like Cheney, served on the House panel that investigated the Jan. 6 riots, told MSNBC last month a second Trump term “would look a lot like Viktor Orban in Hungary — illiberal democracy, meaning democracy without rights, or liberties, or respect for the due process, the system, the rule of law.”
The increased warnings about the consequences of another Trump presidency come as the former president has ratcheted up the intensity of his rhetoric on the campaign trail.
Trump last month described his political opponents as “vermin” who posed a threat to the country from within, comments that drew backlash and comparisons to rhetoric from the likes of Hitler and Mussolini. He has repeatedly signaled he would look to take revenge on his enemies if reelected, telling supporters he would be there “retribution” and suggesting it would be fair game to investigate President Biden and his family because of Trump’s legal troubles.
And Trump last week suggested the government should punish MSNBC “and make them pay for their illegal activity.”
On Saturday, Trump tried out a new line of attack when he described Biden as a “destroyer of American democracy.”
“They’ve been waging an all-out war on American democracy,” Trump said. “If you put me back in the White House, that reign will be over and America will be a free nation once again.”
The comments were an inversion of a common argument from Biden and his allies that Trump poses a singular threat to U.S. democracy, something Biden sought to elevate in the closing weeks of the 2022 midterm campaign. Democrats ultimately held control of the Senate and performed better than expected in the House even as Republicans won the majority.
Democrats see those arguments as a winner against Trump in 2024, but Trump’s counterattacks suggested he thinks it can be made into a rallying cry for his supporters.
Biden and other Democrats have repeatedly emphasized the election denialism that has become commonplace among Trump and his supporters. False claims of voter fraud culminated in the violent Jan. 6 riots at the Capitol, when Trump supporters stormed the complex to try and halt the certification of the 2020 election results.
Some Biden allies have suggested the White House would welcome it if Trump wanted to make the 2024 election a battle over the fate of democracy.
“If I’m in the Biden campaign, I would say, bring it on,” Kate Bedingfield, Biden’s former communications director, said Sunday on CNN. “This is bringing the fight to a place that is good for Joe Biden, that is about who’s protecting your freedoms, who’s protecting your rights.”
This story was updated at 5:06 p.m.