WASHINGTON - President Donald Trump stoked "lock her up" chants against Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer during a campaign rally in her state on Saturday, a little more than a week after law enforcement officials announced they had disrupted a domestic terrorism plot to kidnap the Democrat.
The moment came as Trump was railing against Whitmer's coronavirus restrictions, the same issue that prompted right-wing extremists to target her.
"Get your governor to open up your state," he bellowed into the cold evening at the Muskegon County Airport. "And get your schools open!" When a loud chant of "lock her up!" erupted from the bundled-up crowd crammed together around the stage, Trump agreed - "Lock 'em all up," he said, smiling.
Fourteen men have been charged with plotting against Whitmer, one of the most alarming cases to surface amid growing fears about domestic terrorism. Trump urged his supporters to "LIBERATE MICHIGAN" in an April tweet, and he continues to goad the most radical members of his political base while downplaying the danger to the governor.
"So, I guess they said she was threatened," Trump said, as if to imply he didn't quite believe it. "And she blamed me!"
Whitmer reacted to Trump's comments with alarm. "This is exactly the rhetoric that has put me, my family, and other government officials' lives in danger while we try to save the lives of our fellow Americans," she tweeted. "It needs to stop."
Trump's comments came as he is running out of time to salvage his sagging reelection campaign. Instead of broadening his message to win over voters who have soured on his performance as president, he's airing conspiracy theories and personal grievances while basking in the adulation of crowds at near-daily rallies.
He spoke in Michigan and Wisconsin on Saturday evening, and on Sunday he's heading to Orange County, California, for a fundraiser and Nevada for another rally. Trump plans to visit Arizona, another battleground state where he is behind in polls, for two campaign events on Monday.
"You think I'm doing this for my health?" Trump said about his whirlwind schedule. "I'm not doing this for my health."
Democratic nominee Joe Biden, the former vice president, has kept a lower profile, and he did not hold any events on Saturday. His running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris of California, has also been grounded after two people on her campaign plane tested positive for the coronavirus. She has subsequently tested negative and is expected to visit Florida on Monday, the first day of in-person voting in that battleground state.