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Analysis: Trump initially sidesteps 'dictator' question before adoring Iowa crowd

John T. Bennett, CQ-Roll Call on

Published in Political News

WASHINGTON — Former President Donald Trump initially sidestepped a question about whether he intends to govern as a “dictator” or “abuse power” during a possible second term as friendly Iowa voters repeatedly drowned him in cheers Tuesday at a town hall.

The 2024 Republican front-runner did not immediately and directly answer that question when pressed by Fox News commentator Sean Hannity during a pre-taped town hall from Davenport. Instead, Trump contended that the Biden administration is currently abusing its power and appeared to praise mobster Al Capone, whose penchant for brutality made him an infamous American crime figure.

Trump said he has been indicted four times on “made-up charges” before pivoting to the Chicago mob boss. “I often say Al Capone, he was one of the greatest of all time, if you like criminals. He was a mob boss, the likes of which — ‘Scarface,’ they call him. And he got indicted once. I got indicted four times.”

Hannity appeared to sense potential trouble for Trump and asked him again about being a dictator before the event’s first commercial break. Trump falsely claimed he had said “no, no, no” in his first answer, before saying he would only act that way “on Day One.” That is when he vowed he would be focused on “closing the [southern] border” and “drilling, drilling, drilling.”

The initial exchange was reminiscent of Trump declining late in his term during a White House briefing to promise to accept a peaceful transfer of power if he lost in 2020. His efforts to overturn his eventual loss culminated first in the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot and has him facing felony charges in Washington, D.C., and Georgia.

Trump is running away with the 2024 Republican nomination race, with one new poll giving him a 51 percentage point lead. Despite the 91 felony charges Trump is facing, that made what he proposed to do in a second term more pressing than what the other GOP candidates say at their next debate, slated for Wednesday night.

 

Even some GOP lawmakers and strategists have suggested that Trump’s 2024 campaign message is disjointed. At one point during the down hall, he summed up his goals this way: “Who doesn’t want strong borders and a strong military and low taxes and low interest rates, and go out and buy a house?” But he was, as always, short on specifics and how he would navigate a Congress that is likely to remain closely divided. Here are three other takeaways from Trump’s return to prime time.

Candid Biden

President Joe Biden and Democrats have warned for months that the former president was setting up a potential revenge tour during a second term, with some warning of creeping authoritarianism that could threaten American democracy.

Earlier Tuesday, a traveling Biden made a striking acknowledgement after cracking jokes at an event in Massachusetts about his own age — he turned 81 last month.

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