Donald Trump said he would be dictator for one day. His supporters say they are not concerned.

By | December 18, 2023

DURHAM, NH – Former President Donald Trump received a barrage of criticism when he told Fox News’ Sean Hannity earlier this month that he wouldn’t be a dictator “except on day one” of a second administration.

But many attendees at Trump’s campaign rally Saturday at the University of New Hampshire said the comment was a joke meant to provoke his rivals. Voters said they are not concerned that Trump would actually lead as a dictator.

“He looks like a guy with a laser pointer, and to the left is a cat,” said John LaClair, who drove to the meeting from Barrington with his brother.

Instead, more than a dozen people who spoke to USA TODAY outside the meeting said they believe the presidency would give Trump enough power to legally achieve what matters most to them. This ranges from strengthening the economy to stopping migration at the southern border and preventing American participation in foreign conflicts.

John LaClair, right, and his brother Dennis, left, attend a Trump rally in Durham, NH

John LaClair, right, and his brother Dennis, left, attend a Trump rally in Durham, NH

Shelly Temple, who volunteered for Trump’s 2016 campaign in New Hampshire and attended Saturday’s rally, said the nation’s energy production and border security are among her priorities for 2024. But Trump would have sufficient authority under the current American system to address these issues. , she said.

“I don’t see that as a dictator, I see that as a leader and to protect his country… I like a president who respects the constitution,” she said. “Let the government work as it should work. Let there be checks and balances.”

Shelly Temple, left, attended the meeting with her husband Josh Hartwich, right.  The presidential powers enshrined in the Constitution are enough to allow former President Donald Trump to deliver on his promises, she said.Shelly Temple, left, attended the meeting with her husband Josh Hartwich, right.  The presidential powers enshrined in the Constitution are enough to allow former President Donald Trump to deliver on his promises, she said.

Shelly Temple, left, attended the meeting with her husband Josh Hartwich, right. The presidential powers enshrined in the Constitution are enough to allow former President Donald Trump to deliver on his promises, she said.

The interpretation of Trump’s comments among supporters at his rally on Saturday differs from growing concerns among authoritarianism experts. Some have issued warnings about America’s institutions.

“Two things about Trump. First of all, he often says what he means, and he often says it in the form of a joke,” said Mabel Berezin, a professor of sociology at Cornell University who studies nationalist and populist political movements. “The second part is, I don’t think we should discount him.”

Trump’s allies are planning ways to circumvent some of those checks and balances, Berezin said, even if consolidation of power couldn’t happen overnight. Trump has proposed a series of campaign measures that would give the president additional powers.

“I think it’s one of those classic Trump things that has two meanings: there’s some truth to it, and it’s also a joke,” she said. “Trump’s most outrageous statements are worth paying attention to.”

Donald Trump makes promises for a second term

As he seeks a second term, Trump has considered using the presidency to investigate and possibly prosecute his political enemies.

Writing on his Truth Social platform, he told attendees at another rally in New Hampshire that he would “root out the communists, Marxists, fascists and radical left thugs who live like vermin within the borders of our country.”

The former president has said he will make it easier to fire tens of thousands of federal workers, end birthright citizenship and carry out a mass deportation campaign.

At a town hall event in Iowa earlier this month, Hannity asked Trump about some of these promises and whether he planned to “abuse power in retaliation against anyone” if he regains the presidency.

“Except day one. I want to close the border and I want to drill, drill, drill,” Trump responded. ‘He says you won’t become a dictator, will you? No, no, no – except on the first day… after that I’m not a dictator.’

A few days later, he doubled down on the comments during a speech to the New York Young Republican Club.

Trump has also repeatedly praised authoritarian leaders in other countries, including Russian President Vladimir Putin, Chinese President Xi Jinping, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and North Korean President Kim Jong Un. Trump said again on Saturday that Kim was “very nice.”

Former U.S. President and 2024 Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally at the New England Sports Center in Derry, New Hampshire, October 23, 2023. Trump filed paperwork earlier in the day to participate in the New Hampshire primary .Former U.S. President and 2024 Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally at the New England Sports Center in Derry, New Hampshire, October 23, 2023. Trump filed paperwork earlier in the day to participate in the New Hampshire primary .

Former U.S. President and 2024 Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally at the New England Sports Center in Derry, New Hampshire, October 23, 2023. Trump filed paperwork earlier in the day to participate in the New Hampshire primary .

‘You have to demolish your whole house’

While addressing the crowd, Trump again promised “drill, baby, drill,” but did not address his previous “dictator” comments. Instead, he pointed the finger at President Joe Biden and the Democrats.

“Biden and the far left lunatics are desperate to stop us in any way they can. They are willing to violate the U.S. Constitution at levels never seen before to win,” he said.

Several meeting participants who spoke to USA TODAY also said their concerns about democracy are not with Trump, but with the current president.

“I’m not concerned about that at all,” said Charles Martin, an engineer from southern New Hampshire, when asked about Trump’s comments about being a dictator.

He said he will “never forgive” Biden for the administration’s handling of COVID-19 vaccines, which put him at odds with his employer, adding that he believes “we are living in a tyranny right now.”

The split reflects recent polling from the Associated Press and the NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, which found that a majority of Republicans and Democrats both believe democracy is in danger in the 2024 presidential election — but for different reasons. Eighty-seven percent of Democrats said Trump would threaten democracy, and 82% of Republicans said Biden would.

Nori Kozuma, right, went to speak to former President Donald Trump with his wife, Sarah, left.  He said he fears democracy is under threat and something needs to change.Nori Kozuma, right, went to speak to former President Donald Trump with his wife, Sarah, left.  He said he fears democracy is under threat and something needs to change.

Nori Kozuma, right, went to speak to former President Donald Trump with his wife, Sarah, left. He said he fears democracy is under threat and something needs to change.

Nori Kozuma and Sarah Kozuma own a café in Newmarket. They believe their business has fared better under Trump’s presidency and hope a second term will rejuvenate the economy.

Nori Kozuma added that he is concerned that democracy is in danger. The political system does not serve the people, he said, so “now we have to change the system.”

“You have to demolish your entire house to build a brand new house that is actually good for you. To destroy the entire house takes a long time and requires leadership. (Accusations of dictatorship are) fueled by the media,” he said. “He hasn’t done anything that makes me think he’s a dictator.”

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Donald Trump’s supporters dismiss concerns about ‘dictator’ comments

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