I was driving with my kids on Sunday, mind wandering as I steered. I was looking at a cluster of leafless trees when the first words from a social media post by Donald Trump popped into my mind.
“2024 is our final battle.”
This was the post in which he went on to promise readers — supporters, mostly, because this was on the social media site he owns, Truth Social — that they, together, would “expel the warmongers from our government” and “drive out the globalists” and “cast out the Communists, Marxists, and Fascists” and, of course, “rout the Fake News Media.”
That’s where my mind went next, understandably, with my kids in their car seats behind me: What does “routing” the media mean? What does it mean that the guy who will almost certainly be the Republican presidential nominee next year and has a very good chance of winning the election wants to “rout” me and my colleagues?
In that this question came to mind, Trump’s post was a success. He wants me and others who work in this industry to feel unsettled, and, more importantly, he wants his supporters to know that he can be unsettling to us. But this was only the most personal part of what he threatened, of course, alongside the threats to others he and his base view as enemies.
As The Washington Post’s Dan Balz wrote over the weekend, everyone should assume that Trump is very serious about his intent to exact retribution on his foes. In his first term, his efforts to exact damage against his opponents were scattershot and often ineffective. In his second term, he’s likely to have more support and more success. It’s still the case that this is rhetoric aimed at a particular emotional response, but it is more likely now that an inaugurated Trump will try to do those things than it was eight years ago when he made more subtle threats.
Particularly once we come back to that first phrase: that this will be the “final battle.”
Trump has used this expression a lot this year. He used it at the Conservative Political Action Conference. He used it at his first campaign rally in Waco, Tex. — an event that came during the 30th anniversary of the deadly standoff between government agents and a religious cult in that city. He used it again when speaking to Turning Point Action this summer. Over and over, the same framing: The final battle is nigh.
Here, too, there’s an element of rhetoric that can’t be dismissed. Before the 2016 election, Trump told an interviewer, “I think this will be the last election if I don’t win.” His argument was that the election of Hillary Clinton would mean that immigrants to the United States — a group Trump had demonized as he sought the Republican nomination — would be granted the right to vote and oppose Republicans indefinitely. This was unlikely, but it was important to Trump to depict the election in the most absolute possible terms, to escalate the importance of the election above all else … and to therefore increase turnout.
The interviewer was David Brody, then of the Christian Broadcasting Network. So Trump also put the battle into religious terms: “If we don’t win this election, you’ll never see another Republican and you’ll have a whole different church structure.”
It’s not clear what this meant. Probably nothing. But Trump already recognized the importance of leveraging the fears of conservative Christians, telling them earlier that year that they were “under tremendous siege” but that if he won, “Christianity will have power.”
In 2016, Trump won White evangelical Protestants by 61 points. A third of his votes came from that demographic. A third of his votes came from evangelicals in 2020, too, with his margin widening to 68 points.
Evangelical Americans are not uniformly Republican but are overwhelmingly so. They are also unusually receptive to Trump’s central campaign pitch that America’s best days are in the past. “Make America Great Again” sounds pretty good to a voting bloc in which three-quarters of members believe that the country has changed for the worse since the 1950s.
So we arrive at the final battle. If your immediate point of reference for that phrase wasn’t to the Book of Revelation’s depiction of the apocalypse, you are probably not a Trump supporter. (A 2012 poll from PRRI found that the religious group most likely to say that the end times as predicted in Revelations would occur during their lives was evangelicals.)
Patrick Wiedemeier, the conservative Baptist preacher who offered the invocation at Trump’s Iowa rally over the weekend, almost certainly wasn’t confused about the reference.
“There’s great excitement in this place, Lord, and rightfully so,” he said before the large crowd bedecked in MAGA apparel. “But this is just a taste of what’s coming when you send your son as King of Kings, and he sets things right.”
“I pray your protection and encouragement on the president, his family and his staff,” he added later — unquestionably referring to the country’s previous chief executive and not the one in office now. “Give them the wisdom of Solomon and the discernment of David as they face the giants who are really in opposition to you, Almighty God.”
After all, he said at another point, “we have fallen from great heights” and “need your intervention.”
“Truth is suppressed,” he continued. “Lies, corruption and propaganda are driving civilization to ruins.”
The final battle, Trump would later tell his supporters, would once again set all of this right. By implication of its title, this is their last chance to fix what’s broken, to intervene in lieu of anticipation of a divine hand.
Might just be rhetoric aimed at turnout. You’ll forgive me if I take it more seriously than that.