The Slatest

Today’s Trump Apocalypse Watch: So Much for Staying on Message

Donald Trump addresses the audience during a campaign event at the Trask Coliseum on Tuesday in Wilmington, North Carolina.

Sara D. Davis/Getty Images

The Trump Apocalypse Watch is a subjective daily estimate, using a scale of one to four horsemen, of how likely it is that Donald Trump will be elected president, thus triggering an apocalypse in which we all die.

The last time we looked upon the horizon, Donald Trump had just given a relatively run-of-the-mill speech on the economy in Detroit. More noteworthy than its details (or, more accurately, the vague policy outlines with the promise of specifics to come later) was the fact that Trump managed to stand in front of the camera for roughly an hour and not do or say anything that would put him in what has become his natural state of late: on the defensive.

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And then, at a North Carolina rally on Tuesday, Trump said this about Hillary Clinton and her ability to pick liberal Supreme Court judges if she wins this November: “By the way and if she gets to pick—if she gets to pick her judges—nothing you can do folks. Although, the Second Amendment people, maybe there is, I don’t know.”

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Woof.

The Trump campaign scrambled to try to clean up the mess by suggesting what Trump was actually alluding to wasn’t the assassination of a President Hillary Clinton or one of her SCOTUS nominees down the line, but instead simply a well-organized grassroots effort that kept her picks off the high court. That hard-to-believe defense aside, what was clear was Trump was making a joke—a bad joke and a dangerous joke, but a joke nonetheless. The fact he is so cavalier about cracking wise about violence is certainly troubling; as I argued earlier, words have meaning, and words from the presidential nominee of a major political party have more meaning than most—particularly when said nominee has already primed his voters to turn violent if he loses in November.

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But set aside the frightening real-world implications of Trump’s words for a second and instead consider the political ramifications of them. Trump has been careening from one controversy of his own making to another this summer, and it’s beginning to have a serious effect on both his poll numbers and his support from within his own party. (Those two things, incidentally, are not unrelated.) Trump entered today on-message for a change—but now won’t leave it that way. I’m dropping the danger level by half a horseman:

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Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Getty Images, Wikimedia Commons
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