DURHAM, N.H. — Republican poll leader Donald Trump approvingly quoted autocrats Vladimir Putin of Russia and Viktor Orban of Hungary, part of an ongoing effort to deflect from his criminal prosecutions and spin alarms about eroding democracy against President Biden.
His speech at a presidential campaign rally here on Saturday also reprised dehumanizing language targeting immigrants that historians have likened to past authoritarians, including a reference that some civil rights advocates and experts in extremism have compared to Adolf Hitler’s fixation on blood purity.
And he used the term “hostages” to describe people charged with violent crimes in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack at the U.S. Capitol.
The comments came as experts, historians and political opponents have voiced growing alarm about Trump’s rhetoric, ideas and emerging plans for a second term, pointing to parallels to past and present authoritarian leaders.
Trump quoted Putin, the dictatorial Russia president who invaded neighboring Ukraine, criticizing the criminal charges against Trump, who is accused in four separate cases of falsifying business records in a hush money scheme, mishandling classified documents, and trying to overturn the 2020 election results. In the quotation, Putin agreed with Trump’s own attempts to portray the prosecutions as politically motivated.
“It shows the rottenness of the American political system, which cannot pretend to teach others about democracy,” Trump quoted Putin saying in the speech. Trump added: “They’re all laughing at us.”
He went on to align himself with Orban, the Hungarian prime minister who has amassed functionally autocratic power through controlling the media and changing the country’s constitution. Orban has presented his leadership as a model of an “illiberal” state and has opposed immigration for leading to “mixed race” Europeans. Democratic world leaders have sought to isolate Orban for eroding civil liberties and bolstering ties with Putin.
But Trump called him “highly respected” and welcomed his praise as “the man who can save the Western world.”
In the speech, Trump also repeated his own inflammatory language against undocumented immigrants, by accusing them of “poisoning the blood of our country” — a phrase that immigrant groups and civil rights advocates have condemned as reminiscent as Hitler in his book “Mein Kampf,” in which he told Germans to “care for the purity of their own blood” by eliminating Jews.
The crowd of thousands in a college arena cheered Trump’s recitation of an anti-immigrant poem called “The Snake” that he has repeated on the campaign trail and popularized since the 2016 campaign.
And approaching the third anniversary of the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection, Trump came to the defense of alleged violent offenders who have been detained awaiting trial on the order of judges.
“I don’t call them prisoners, I call them hostages,” he said. “They’re hostages.”
The speech drew renewed criticism from Democrats. “Donald Trump is campaigning on an extreme MAGA agenda that would rip away hard-won freedoms from Americans — it’s as simple as that,” Democratic National Committee press secretary Sarafina Chitika said in a statement. “If he takes power, Trump will waste no time implementing his dangerous vision for America.”
Trump’s speech began with an economic focus, with a new tagline “Better off with Trump” and a recitation of statistics comparing affordability under his presidency to now. But Trump became more animated as he returned to his material on immigration and the charges again him.
Trump spokesman Steven Cheung said that Trump “gave a great speech and knocked it out of the park” in front of a large crowd.
In a move that experts said could have the effect of confusing voters about the true dangers to democracy, Trump has begun deflecting from reports that he would seek revenge on his critics in a second term, accusing Biden of acting like a dictator because of the prosecutions against Trump. Two of the cases were brought by local prosecutors, and the two federal cases are being handled by a special counsel acting independently of the White House in accordance with Justice Department rules.
Without evidence, Trump is portrayed all four cases as a coordinated persecution against him because of his lead in primary and general-election polls. As he pushed that theme on Saturday, the slogan “BIDEN ATTACKS DEMOCRACY” flashed across the screen above him.
The speech ended with an instrumental track that Trump has continued using at rallies despite becoming associated with the QAnon online extremist movement.