President Trump eschewed magnanimity for the 73rd straight year with his comments on Beto O’Rourke’s exit from the presidential race Friday. During a rally in Tupelo, Mississippi, not exactly a swing district in this—or any upcoming election—Trump took time in his remarks to take one last final shot at a Democratic candidate that was running far behind the pack, as low as eighth in national polling with just 2 percent. Trump piled on O’Rourke as a “poor, pathetic guy” who “quit like a dog.” O’Rourke has, of course, been highly critical of Trump’s presidency, as all Democrats and the 62 percent of the country have.
In olden times, simpler days that existed pre-2016, it would have been nearly inconceivable for a sitting president to pile on a sinking candidate in the opposite party for pretty obvious reasons. Namely, you’re the president, act like it. That’s obviously not the case anymore, as there is no American too inconsequential for the president to use his platform to hammer. When it comes to O’Rourke, perhaps what was unsettling to Trump is that despite being so very low in the Democratic polls, O’Rourke still had Trump beat in eight of the ten head-to-head polls taken this year. That would be like a Democratic president—take your pick, Bill Clinton or Barack Obama—trailing in a hypothetical general election matchup with Alan Keyes.
The most notable part of Trump’s parting takedown was his reference to O’Rourke as “a dog.” It’s notable because it’s also how he referred to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s death, saying last Sunday: “He died like a dog.”
Perhaps the expression of derision describing someone as sub-human is simply a verbal tic, of which there are many that emerge from Trump’s addled brain, getting used over and over and over again like someone who’s just learning the language. But it also shows a larger, profoundly binary Trump worldview where there are only two types of people: those who are with him and those who are against him.
The important distinction is that Trump’s definition of enemies conflates enemies of the nation with personal adversaries operating within it. In fact, in Trump’s view there are very few enemies of the national interest—he’s expressed affection for Russia’s Vladimir Putin, North Korea’s Kim Jong-un, and dictatorial strongmen everywhere—as long as they flatter him personally. For leaders that do challenge him, from allies no less—like France’s Emmanuel Macron to London Mayor Sadiq Khan—they might as well be Beto O’Rourke. They might as well be terrorists. What they most certainly all are to Trump is dogs.