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Car Talk

“Bloodbath”-Gate: Yes, Trump Meant the Auto Industry. At First, Anyway

The media may have taken the former president out of context this weekend, but adding it back does him no favors.

Donald Trump speaks rally in Vandalia, Ohio, on March 16, 2024.
Kamil Krzaczynski/Getty Images
Donald Trump speaks at a rally in Vandalia, Ohio, on March 16.

Saturday afternoon, at yet another poorly attended rally in Ohio, Donald Trump spoke these shocking words: “Now if I don’t get elected, it’s gonna be a bloodbath for the whole—that’s gonna be the least of it. It’s going to be a bloodbath for the country, that will be the least of it.”

As is always the case with a man who only finishes about every seventh sentence that he embarks upon, it’s hard on one level to make sense of what he said. In this short clip, you can see that he’s holding forth on the subject of cars and automobile factories. On Sunday, many outlets reported the “bloodbath” line without much in the way of context, which had MAGA world howling on X (f.k.a. Twitter).

CNN’s reporting added more context. Here’s the fuller quote from the CNN story: “We’re going to put a 100 percent 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 gonna be the least of it. It’s going to be a bloodbath for the country. That’ll be the least of it.”

It does seem that, in that half-finished sentence, he was briefly heading in the direction of saying, “It’s going to be a bloodbath for the whole auto industry.” If he’d said that and stopped there, I’d agree that his words were being taken badly out of context.

Notably, he didn’t stop there. What made him say “that’s gonna be the least of it”? Where was he going, in that mildewed brain of his? He stopped himself mid-sentence. Why? Based on what he went on to say, it’s a reasonable guess that he stopped himself because the words that were about to come out of his mouth, “auto industry,” just weren’t big enough—weren’t aggressive enough. So he had to amplify it and make it more threatening. The auto-industry bloodbath, he said twice, will be the least of it. It will be a bloodbath “for the country.”

Still, maybe he only meant an economic bloodbath. In fact, that’s just typical Trump bluster—built as usual on lies. The Biden economy as we all know reeled from inflation in 2022 and 2023, and that overwhelmed the narrative. Beyond that, the 289,000 jobs gained per month during Biden’s term is the highest for any president in modern history. And I could offer similar huzzahs with respect to wages and GDP.

To drill down to the auto industry, it’s doing far better during Biden’s tenure than it did during Trump’s. In the first place, the auto industry under Trump lost jobs, but here we need to provide the fuller context that those losses came after the pandemic.

Nevertheless, even if we don’t count the pandemic against Trump, the Biden-era numbers easily top the Trump-era numbers. Trump’s pre-pandemic tally saw auto and parts manufacturing employment go up by 27,900. Under Biden, those two categories have gained 127,800 jobs.

Moreover, it shouldn’t go unmentioned that slapping hefty tariffs on certain imports might make for a great applause line at a rally. But outside of the sugar high that comes from that, they pave the way for retaliatory tariffs that hurt U.S. consumers. The U.S.-China Business Council, that well-known outpost of Marxist vermin, estimated in a 2021 study that Trump’s trade policies cost nearly 250,000 American jobs.

So much for the economic bloodbath if he’s not elected. But now let’s cut to the chase.

It is true that many outlets Sunday yanked the “bloodbath” remark out of context. But this is also true: Trump is the king of no context. He speaks in constant half-utterances, uncompleted thoughts, sentences constructed like straw huts in hurricane zones (“Nobody’s been treated like Trump, in terms of badly”), and even facial expressions and grunts.

It’s how corrupt people communicate. My favorite political quote of all time is from one Martin Lamonsey, a Boston machine politician of the early twentieth century: “Never write if you can speak; never speak if you can nod; never nod if you can wink.” It’s the age-old lingua franca of the crooked pol, the crime boss, the fixer; the Signor Ferraris of the world, if you remember your Casablanca. Surely some Lamonsey-esque functionary back in ancient Egypt or Greece or Persia said much the same thing. It’s how such people think.

So: Did Trump call for a bloodbath if he loses? No. However: Did Trump stop himself mid-sentence to broaden his indictment and deliberately use a phrase—not once but two times, for emphasis—that is ambiguous, open to dark interpretation? He most certainly did.

And having done that, he will now, at some future rally, get a little closer to just saying it. And then a little closer, and then a little closer still. By October—still probably without Trump ever saying it outright—the message will have been clearly communicated that any scenario that ends with Trump as the loser, even a clear-cut one that isn’t close enough to dispute, will be one in which the shedding of blood to water the tree of liberty will be necessary.

One in three Republicans told pollsters last fall that violence would be justified to save the country. It’s probably 40 percent now, and by Election Day on November 5—which, it’s probably not lost on MAGA world, is one of the most famous anniversaries of political violence in human history—God knows what it will be.

So let’s not exaggerate what Trump said Saturday. But let’s be clear—it wasn’t just car talk.