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Former President Donald Trump's words are under scrutiny once again

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Former President Donald Trump's campaign rhetoric is making news again. And it's not because of some big policy idea.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

It's for his words at a campaign rally, which we will hear and discuss. Trump spoke near Dayton, Ohio, over the weekend, and this is the way he described people who went to prison for attacking the United States Capitol in 2021.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DONALD TRUMP: You see the spirit from the hostages, and that's what they are, is hostages.

INSKEEP: Trump often repeats a story about other countries emptying their prisons to send people to the United States. His campaign has never been able to name such a country, but Trump talked about the people he imagined coming.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: If you call them people, I don't know if you call them people. In some cases, they're not people, in my opinion.

INSKEEP: He also repeated a campaign promise focused on asylum-seekers and people in this country illegally.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: We're going to get them out fast. We're going to have the largest deportation effort in history.

INSKEEP: Those are the kinds of remarks Trump makes a rally after rally. Over the weekend, he also said something about a bloodbath.

MARTIN: NPR senior political editor and correspondent Domenico Montanaro is with us now to talk more about this. Good morning, Domenico.

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Hey there.

MARTIN: Let's start with that bloodbath remark. What did it mean, and why do you think it got so much attention?

MONTANARO: Well, so Trump was talking about China potentially opening car plants in Mexico and then trying to sell those cars in the United States. Let's take a listen to part of what he said.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: We're going to put a 100% tariff on every single car that comes across the line, and you're not going to be able to sell those guys - if I get elected. Now, if I don't get elected, it's going to be a bloodbath for the whole - that's going to be the least of it. It's going to be a bloodbath for the country. That'll be the least of it.

MONTANARO: You know, so it's pretty clear he was talking about the auto industry, and his campaign clarified to say as much in a statement after the event. But, you know, this is what Trump does. You know, he throws out this kind of violent graphic language. He knows it's going to get a rise out of people, especially on the left, and generate headlines. Then he can wave his hand and blame the media for creating some false narrative.

You know, but while many are litigating what he meant by those comments, as we heard earlier there, that - going less noticed in the same rally is Trump standing there and saluting January 6 rioters, calling them hostages and patriots and saying their prosecutions are a disgrace.

MARTIN: I understand Trump also said something this weekend about reproductive rights that's getting a lot of attention, specifically about the possibility of a federal ban. What was that?

MONTANARO: Yeah. In an interview with Fox News' Howard Kurtz this weekend, Trump also said that he was thinking about proposing a federal ban after 16 weeks for abortions as something of a middle ground, he said. But he also praised the Supreme Court's highly unpopular decision to overturn Roe.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: Look, a lot of things were done with Roe by killing it. Number one, we brought it back to the states.

HOWARD KURTZ: Which was, of course, through our justices to the Supreme Court who made that possible.

TRUMP: They did.

KURTZ: Yeah.

TRUMP: And, you know, they did something that, from a lot of standpoints, is extremely good.

MONTANARO: You know, the practical results, obviously, of overturning Roe has meant that states have passed extremely restrictive laws banning abortion. That's put Republicans on the defensive in election after elections since the Dobbs ruling two years ago, as Trump himself acknowledged. But given his appointments to the court are the reason for overturning Roe, it's going to be hard for him to get out of the same box his party has been in. And Democrats are happy to remind people of that, promising to spend millions of dollars on ads and hoping they can mobilize voters that they so desperately need.

MARTIN: OK. In the time we have left, let's talk about the Democrats. They do need to start moving voters in President Biden's direction. How is that going?

MONTANARO: He's got a lot of work to do. I mean, he's behind in swing states in an average of the polls. His approval rating right now is lower at this point than any president seeking reelection in the past 50 years or more. And he's fighting a two-front battle - one from Trump and one from third-party threats. It's all making for a lot of tension among Democrats who can't understand why, with comments like Trump is making and the policies he's proposing, that more voters at this point don't see Trump as more of an urgent threat.

MARTIN: That is NPR's Domenico Montanaro. Domenico, thank you.

MONTANARO: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.
Domenico Montanaro is NPR's senior political editor/correspondent. Based in Washington, D.C., his work appears on air and online delivering analysis of the political climate in Washington and campaigns. He also helps edit political coverage.