Former US president Donald Trump on Tuesday declined to rule out abusing power if he returns to the White House after Fox News host Sean Hannity asked him to respond to growing criticism of his rhetoric.
The Republican presidential front-runner has talked about targeting his rivals — referring to them as “vermin” — and vowed to seek retribution if he wins a second term for what he argues are politically motivated prosecutions against him.
As Trump has dominated the Republican presidential primary, US President Joe Biden has stepped up his own warnings, contending that Trump is “determined to destroy American democracy.”
“Under no circumstances, you are promising America tonight, you would never abuse power as retribution against anybody?” Hannity asked Trump in the interview taped in Davenport, Iowa.
“Except for day one,” Trump said. “I want to close the border and I want to drill, drill, drill.”
Trump then repeated his assertion.
“I love this guy,” he said of the Fox News host. “He says: ‘You’re not going to be a dictator, are you?’ I said: ‘No, no, no, other than day one. We’re closing the border and we’re drilling, drilling, drilling. After that, I’m not a dictator.’”
Earlier in the interview, Hannity had asked Trump if he “in any way” had “any plans whatsoever, if re-elected president, to abuse power, to break the law to use the government to go after people.”
“You mean like they’re using right now?” Trump replied.
Trump’s campaign rhetoric and sweeping plans for a second term that include firing large swaths of the federal bureaucracy and targeting his rivals have alarmed Democrats and become a chief election argument for Biden as he prepares for a potential rematch against Trump.
“Donald Trump has been telling us exactly what he will do if he’s reelected and tonight he said he will be a dictator on day one. Americans should believe him,” Biden campaign manager Julie Chavez Rodriguez said in a statement.
Meanwhile, US media have issued a spate of dystopian warnings that a second Trump presidency could slide into dictatorship.
Dark scenarios about what could happen if the twice-impeached former president wins next year have appeared in the space of a few days in the Washington Post, the New York Times and The Atlantic.
Grim predictions also came from top Republican Trump critic former US representative Liz Cheney, who said that the country is “sleepwalking into dictatorship” and that she is weighing a third-party presidential run of her own to try to stop him.
Together, they paint a bleak picture of an angrier yet more disciplined Trump than during his first spell in the White House, one who would wreak vengeance on his perceived enemies and possibly try to stay in power beyond the two-term US limit.
Biden, who is behind Trump in the polls ahead of a likely replay of their bitter 2020 contest, said the warnings backed his own claims to be defending democracy.
“If Trump wasn’t running, I’m not sure I’d be running, but we cannot let him win,” the 81-year-old Democrat told a campaign event in Massachusetts.
The most eye-opening piece appeared in the Post by conservative commentator Robert Kagan, with the headline: “A Trump dictatorship is increasingly inevitable. We should stop pretending.”
Comparing him to the power-grabbing Roman emperor Julius Caesar, the lengthy article says neither the US Constitution nor the Supreme Court could prevent Trump being “president for life” if he wanted.
Kagan wrote that if Trump survives the trials he faces over trying to upend the 2020 election and cling to power illegally, and wins the next election, he would in effect feel he is above the law and can get away with anything.
Additional reporting by AFP
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