Gallows Humor and Talk of Escape: Trump’s Possible Return Rattles Capital

It has become the topic of the season at Washington dinner parties and receptions. Where would you go if it really happens?

Portugal, says a former member of Congress. Australia, says a former agency director. Canada, says a Biden administration official. France, says a liberal columnist. Poland, says a former investigator.

They’re joking. Sort of. At least in most cases. It’s a gallows humor with a dark edge. Much of official Washington is bracing for the possibility that former President Donald J. Trump really could return — this time with “retribution” as his avowed mission, the discussion is where people might go into a sort of self-imposed exile.

Whether they mean it or not, the buzz is a telling indicator of the grim mood among many in the nation’s capital these days. The “what if” goes beyond the normal prospect of a side unhappy about a lost election. It speaks to the nervousness about a would-be president who talks of being a dictator for a day, who vows to “root out” enemies he called “vermin,” who threatens to prosecute adversaries, who suggests a general he deems disloyal deserves “DEATH,” whose lawyers say he may have immunity even if he orders the assassination of political rivals.

“I feel like in the past two weeks that conversation for whatever reason has just surged,” said Miles Taylor, a former Trump administration official who became a vocal critic of the former president. “People are feeling that it’s very obvious if a second Trump terms happens, it’s going to be slash and burn.”

That’s all fine with Mr. Trump and his allies. In their view, Washington’s fear is the point. He is the disrupter of the elite. He is coming to break up their corrupt “uniparty” hold on power. If establishment Washington is upset about the possibility that he returns, that is a selling point to his base around the country that is alienated from the people in power.

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