Among Donald Trump’s many legal dilemmas is a constitutional question about his eligibility for the 2024 ballot. Section 3 of the 14th Amendment bars any public official who swore an oath to protect the Constitution from holding office if they “engaged in insurrection or rebellion” against it or gave “aid or comfort to the enemies thereof,” and as a result, two states — and counting — have concluded that the Republican cannot appear on the ballot.
It’s against this backdrop that the former president is relying on a familiar tactic: Trump is trying to reappropriate the term being used against him. The Washington Post reported on the third anniversary of the attack on the Capitol:
Trump went further in social media posts over the holidays, calling [President Joe Biden] an “insurrectionist” in response to a decision by the Colorado Supreme Court to remove Trump from the primary ballot. … On Saturday, Trump returned to the theme, concluding an extended broadside against undocumented immigration by saying, “When you talk about insurrection, what they’re doing, that’s the real deal.”
This, alas, is not altogether new. Nine months after the Capitol assault, as the investigation into the Jan. 6 attack advanced, Trump appeared on a conservative podcast and argued, “The insurrection took place on November 3rd. That was the insurrection: when they rigged the election. The big insurrection, the real insurrection.”
In case that was too subtle, he added in a written statement a day later, “[T]he real insurrection happened on November 3rd, the Presidential Election, not on January 6th.”
In other words, as far as the defeated former president was concerned, the election was itself an insurrection, rather than his own efforts to overturn the results and claim illegitimate power he had not earned.
Now, evidently, Trump is tweaking his line: Those looking for evidence of an insurrection, he argued on the Jan. 6 anniversary, should disregard the violence at the Capitol and focus instead on migrants trying to enter the United States.
The rhetoric is obviously not to be taken seriously, though the Republican’s use of the word “real” stood out as interesting. It’s a word Trump uses with unnerving frequency when trying to rebrand words and phrases that have become politically inconvenient for him.
Accused of being a threat to democracy, Trump said Biden is “the real threat to democracy.” Accused of crossing legal lines in his hush-money scandal, Trump said Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg is “the real criminal.”
When Biden-era job growth soared, Trump said his followers should turn to him to understand “the real job numbers.” After he was caught pressuring Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to “find” votes for him after his 2020 defeat, Trump said it was Raffensperger’s recording of the phone call that was “the real crime.”
Similarly, in 2019, facing a variety of intensifying scandals, Trump said the “real crimes” were committed by congressional Democrats.
Now, he’s apparently still hoping to identify the “real“ insurrection, too.
Let this be a lesson for those taking note of the former president’s rhetoric: When Trump references “the real [fill in the blank],” he’s trying to pull a fast one.
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