By making Ashli Babbitt into a conservative martyr, Trump is previewing his potential next presidential campaign.
On January 6, 2021, committed conspiracy theorist Ashli Babbitt was shot and killed by Police Officer Michael Byrd, as she tried to force her way through the glass doors that separated a mob of violent seditionists from dozens of members of congress and their staffs hunkering down amidst the chaos of a full blown insurrection against the United States government.
In the months since then, the increasingly dominant proto-fascist wing of the post-Donald Trump Republican Party has frantically tried to reframe Babbitt as a patriotic martyr who was unjustly killed for a righteous cause, rather than a reality-adverse insurrectionist whose death resulted from her wholehearted belief in an unhinged political fantasy of “stolen elections” and “crimes of the century” promulgated by Trump and his enablers.
That effort at post-mortem beatification reached its crescendo this past weekend, with Trump himself recording a personalized message for Babbitt, which aired at a “Texas Loves Ashli Babbitt” political rally in Texas for what would have been her 36th birthday.
“That horrible day of January 6, Ashli arrived at the U.S. Capitol. She was shot and tragically killed,” Trump exclaimed, adding that there “was no reason Ashli should have lost her life that day,” while calling for a new Justice Department investigation into her death.
“Her memory will live on in our hearts for all time,” Trump said in his most explicit — but not his first — embrace of Babbitt’s position as a conservative icon for a cult of personality build around his own refusal to acknowledge his electoral loss in 2020.
This wholehearted adoption of the conservative Babbitt-the-martyr narrative is not simply a matter of Trump preaching to his idiotic choir, though. Instead, think of Trump’s video as an preview of what is looking increasingly like one of, if not the main thrust of the GOP’s 2024 electoral messaging: “Donald Trump is the rightful president and the January 6 insurrection was a point of pride, not shame, for this country.” If Trump does run in 2024 — an extremely real possibility that’s come into further focus with each passing news cycle — he’s made little secret of what he sees as crux of his messaging to that effect. Coupled with his multiple daily missives, his message to the Babbitt event makes clear that any future run for office would focus less on plans for a second term, and instead be predicated on the alleged injustice he endured by losing in 2020.
And as goes Trump, so to goes the rest of the Republican party. Already down ticket candidates for 2024 have begun incorporating Trump’s “stolen election” lies into their own campaigns. Do they actually believe that 2020 was a stolen election, or are they simply capitalizing on the former President’s efforts to rally his base? In all likelihood, it’s a combination of both.
It’s hard to say what an entirely grievance-based campaign for president might look like, and whether voters care enough about 2020 for its constant invocation to be effective in 2024. What’s clear, however, is that Donald Trump is gearing up for a grand re-entrance into public political life by priming the very same forces that so violently capstoned his first term in office. That alone should be enough to scare everyone.