In the weeks since a 24-year-old Long Island man named Daniel Penny killed Jordan Neely in a New York City subway car, the response from the Republican Party’s right wing has been as consistent as it is chilling. These politicians and commentators seem to believe that Neely—a homeless former Michael Jackson impersonator who was reportedly berating passengers—deserved to die. Or put another way: Penny’s fear of his fellow passenger simply mattered more than Neely’s own right to live.
As my colleague Noah Lanard wrote last week, Republican presidential candidates have not just praised Penny, but raised money to help the former Marine fight his charge of manslaughter. Penny was a “Good Samaritan,” said Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. “Let’s show this Marine…America’s got his back.”
Another GOP candidate, businessman Vivek Ramaswamy, donated $10,000 to Penny’s defense fund. It was time, he said, to “restore the rule of law in America.”
There is one notable exception in all of this, though: Donald Trump. The former president has, by his standards, been conspicuously quiet on the subway homicide. This is a man who once took out a full-page newspaper ad demanding New York state bring back the death penalty so it could kill the teenagers accused of raping a white woman in Central Park. (They turned out to have been wrongfully accused.) As president, and ever since, he demonized the homeless in cities such as Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York, and talked about using the federal government to clear those residents off the streets. Trump was, and still is, at the vanguard of a broader conservative war on cities, and he has allied himself with people—such as Kyle Rittenhouse and the McCloskeys of St. Louis—who embody the right-wing yearning for vigilantes to use violence, or the threat of violence, against liberal lawlessness. Or simply against liberals exercising constitutional rights in settings that conservatives don’t like.
If Trump has been conspicuously quiet on all of this, it’s not because he’s lost a step, and it’s definitely not because of his compassion for Jordan Neely—it’s more that he doesn’t need to say anything. A campaign like this is how he wins. Every expression of extrajudicial bloodlust from a party that quite recently nominated Willard “Mitt” Romney, every Bane-like pronouncement from a tennis-playing shitposter, is an affirmation of who the party belongs to. Right now, all of his rivals are tripping over themselves to reinforce the supremacy of Trump’s politics, and to tear down the very prosecutor, Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg, who just indicted Trump—the man they have to defeat. If there’s one thing America’s most notorious grifter understands, it’s the value of a free ride. Why invest your own capital, when you can have everyone else do it for you?