After Donald Trump attacked Gretchen Whitmer at a rally in Michigan on Saturday, prompting chants of “Lock her up!”, an aide to the governor said: “Every single time the president does this at a rally, the violent rhetoric towards her immediately escalates on social media. It has to stop. It just has to.”
Lara Trump, a campaign surrogate for her father in law, retorted that the president was merely “having fun”.
At his rally in Muskegon, Trump targeted Whitmer several times, criticising state rules to stop the spread of coronavirus, calling her “dishonest” and making light of a rightwing plot to kidnap her – and possibly to kill her – that was foiled by the FBI.
Thirteen men have been charged in connection with the plot, which included plans to storm the state capitol and to hold some kind of trial. On stage, Trump took credit for federal law enforcement’s role in foiling the plot.
“They said she was threatened,” he said. “And she blamed me. Hopefully you’ll be sending her packing pretty soon.”
The crowd’s chant of “Lock her up!” was a reprise of chants Trump supporters aimed at Hillary Clinton throughout the 2016 presidential campaign.
Whitmer’s digital director, Tori Saylor, responded on Twitter. So did the governor.
“This is exactly the rhetoric that has put me, my family, and other government officials’ lives in danger while we try to save the lives of our fellow Americans,” Whitmer wrote.
On CNN’s State of the Union on Sunday, Lara Trump, wife of Eric Trump and a campaign surrogate for her father-in-law, said the president “wasn’t doing anything I don’t think to provoke people to threaten this woman at all.
“He was having fun at a Trump rally and quite frankly, there are bigger issues than this right now for everyday Americans people … he wasn’t encouraging people to threaten this woman, that’s ridiculous.”
Lara Trump also said: “Well gosh I would like to show people my social media and the threats against me, the threats against my children.”
Lee Chatfield, the Republican speaker of the Michigan house, wrote: “Trump didn’t chant ‘lock her up’ about our governor. But others did and it was wrong. She was literally just targeted. Let’s debate differences. Let’s win elections. But not that.”
As Trump campaigned in Michigan, the state added 1,791 new Covid-19 cases on Saturday, bringing its seven-day total to more than 10,000, a record. Wisconsin, where Trump campaigned later in the day, reported 3,861 new cases on Friday, also a record.
In Muskegon, Trump slammed state anti-coronavirus measures.
“You got to get your governor to open your state and get your schools open,” he said. “The schools have to be open, right?”
More than 8 million people have been infected by the coronavirus in the US and nearly 220,000 have died. Biden continues to hammer Trump for his response.
“All president Trump is offering the people of Michigan is more lies and distractions,” Biden said. “No plan to get the virus under control, no strategy for pulling our economy out of this recession, no vision for uniting the country.”
Trump told both his rallies Biden “will shut down the country, delay the vaccine and prolong the pandemic”. The president insisted the country was turning the corner on the disease.
Michigan and Wisconsin are key battleground states which can contribute to victory in the electoral college. Trump won both four years ago as he took the presidency despite losing the national popular vote to Clinton by nearly 3m ballots. But he is behind in both states this year.