Donald Trump won raucous cheers from his Fort Worth, Texas, crowd on Friday when he promised supporters that he would make it easier for them to sue journalists with whom they disagreed.
Even so, it was not the only outrageous thing the billionaire offered his crowd a day after weathering his toughest debate yet and picking up the backing from New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. His giant rally in deeply conservative Texas was a reminder that no one in the Republican field of White House hopefuls can put on a show like Trump.
Among the rally’s Trump talking points: Reporters are dishonest, deserve to be punished and their corporate owners want to push a political agenda. Rivals Marco Rubio is a “low-life” and Ted Cruz is “a liar.” Christians need their rights protected, Muslims should be banned from coming to the United States, and Mexico is still going to pay for an ever-taller wall along the border.
In a new twist on how Trump would promote his agenda—and defend it from scrutiny—he promised that he would scrap libel laws that guide when journalists can, and cannot, be sued. It was a direct assault on the media that have made Trump, a former reality television host, and his candidacy possible.
“One of the things I’m going to do if I win—and I hope we do, and we’re certainly leading—I’m going to open up our libel laws so when they write purposely negative and horrible and false articles, we can sue them and win lots of money,” Trump said of a litigation wave against major news organizations. “So when The New York Times writes a hit piece, which is a total disgrace, or when the Washington Post, which is there for other reasons writes a hit piece, we can sue them and win money instead of having no chance of winning because they’re totally protected,” Trump said.
The GOP frontrunner specifically called out The Washington Post and its owner, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, for trying to push a political agenda to help make money. He also called The New York Times a failing giant.
Journalists in the United States generally cannot be sued by public figures—such as Trump—unless the official can prove that they published information that they know to be wrong in an effort to hurt the official. Errors of facts or differing in opinions alone have generally been protected for the last half-century under First Amendment case law.
Trump seems not to care, and it’s not clear that he would respect the limits of the Presidency. As with so much of his agenda, he envisions his strong will and personality can undo questions about separation of powers between government branches, ignore or cajole Congress to act, and bully the courts to see things his way.
As he does so often at his rallies, he urged his crowd to jeer the reporters who have broadcast his campaign to the public. “We’re going to open up those libel laws. We’re going to have people sue you like you’ve never been sued before,” Trump roared at reporters in the back of the room.
It was a remarkable moment at one of the most dynamic rallies yet this campaign. One of Trump’s frequent targets was Rubio, who, in Trump’s telling, cannot handle himself on the world stage and sweats so much when nervous. “It’s Rubio,” Trump said as he splashed water onto the crowd.
Earlier in the day, Rubio had a rally mocking Trump’s spelling on Twitter. Rubio also jabbed at Trump’s age. “He would be the oldest president ever elected,” Rubio said.
Trump fired back with more liquid ridicule. “Help me, I need water. Help,” he mimicked Rubio. “This total choke artist. … When you’re a choke artist, you’re always a choke artist.”
In Donald Trump’s America, however, no one might find out. After all, Rubio could simply shut down reports of his troubles with a libel suit.