This week was a rough one for Donald J. Trump. Democrats and their like-minded friends spent four long days lobbing everything they had at him during their convention in Philadelphia. They painted the former reality TV star as uninformed, unhinged, and un-American. They also made fun of his business record, his alleged fortune, and his Twitter account.
And how did all that make Trump feel? I’ll let the Donald answer that for himself. Here he was during a Thursday rally in Iowa:
You know what I wanted to. I wanted to hit a couple of those speakers so hard. I would have hit them. No, no. I was going to hit them, I was all set and then I got a call from a highly respected governor. ‘How’s it going Donald?’ I said, ‘Well it’s going good but they’re really saying bad things about me. I’m going to hit them so hard.’ I was gonna hit one guy in particular, a very little guy. I was gonna hit this guy so hard his head would spin and he wouldn’t know what the hell happened. … I was going to hit a number of those speakers so hard their heads would spin, they’d never recover, and that’s what I did—that’s why I still don’t have a lot of people endorsing me—they still haven’t recovered.
To be fair, by the time Trump was done it was obvious that he wasn’t talking about physically assaulting anyone. His eventual claim that he did the same thing to his Republican rivals during the primary suggests he’s talking about going after his opponents verbally or on Twitter. Also, the former reality star frequently uses the verb to hit rhetorically. He’s not a total outlier on the matter; politicos and the press frequently describe politics in terms of combat—commercials are attack ads, debates are boxing matches, and campaigns are war (or, in Slate’s case four years go, one big and bloody video game).
Still, as you can see in the clip above, Trump’s fans can’t get enough of his macho act, and the clear pleasure they derive from this particular show comes from the double meaning of the word hit. They might not want Trump to actually throw a punch at his opponent, but they love imagining it. Trump, in turn, is always happy to play along. The fact that beating up on the “little guy” (in this case, probably Michael Bloomberg) is what passes for an applause line at his rally is hardly a coincidence.
More striking to me, though, is that both sides believe they can use Trump’s tough-guy act to their advantage. The overarching narrative of the DNC criticism of Trump was that he is a thin-skinned bully who can’t be trusted to keep his cool when provoked. And here was Trump, in effect, saying the very same thing—to cheers.