Donald Trump said he was joking when he repeatedly accused President Obama of founding ISIS. He also said he was joking when he encouraged Russian hackers to obtain Hillary Clinton’s emails. And that time when he said gun owners might be able to stop Clinton from appointing new justices to the Supreme Court? Just another joke, in his view.
Saying comments were “just jokes” as soon as they become problematic has become Trump and his campaign’s go-to way to dismiss Trump’s incendiary rhetoric. And during an appearance on MSNBC Tuesday morning, Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway took the same approach to her boss’ comment during Monday night’s debate that if he was president, Hillary Clinton would be in jail.
Only time I've ever heard a candidate threatening to jail his opponent was in the Congo. He lost & was later convicted of war crimes.
— stuart stevens (@stuartpstevens) October 10, 2016
But to Conway, it was “just a quip.”
Her interpretation, however, is belied by Trump’s own Facebook page. He published a post embracing his threat shortly after Monday night’s debate ended:
If that’s not enough to dispel the notion that Trump’s comment was just “a quip,” Republican vice presidential nominee Mike Pence presented very different spin. During his own subsequent appearance on MSNBC Monday morning, Pence characterized Trump’s comments about investigating and imprisoning Clinton as “one of the better moments of the debate.”
The irony is that independent prosecutors are usually appointed to remove politics from the judicial process. In this case, however, Trump wants to do exactly the opposite —as the Washington Post puts it, “Trump was proposing a special prosecutor for the express purpose of punishing a political opponent.”
But was he really proposing to appoint a special prosecutor with an eye toward imprisoning Clinton for something? Or was it just a quip? Trump’s surrogates seem to answer that question differently.
It’s clear, however, that if Trump deems that his “proposal” has become politically problematic, he can and will fall back on his tried and true method of retroactively proclaiming it to be “just a joke.”