Editors' pick: Originally published March 7.
Concerns about Donald Trump's political ascent are reaching fever pitch. Some political commentators and, now, a major candidate, are making the ultimate taboo political comparison.
At the March 6 Democratic presidential debate in Flint, Mich., Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders made an overt comparison between the GOP frontrunner and Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler. While fielding a question about the role of God in his life and criticisms made by the Detroit News that he keeps his Judaism in the background, the Vermont senator replied, "Look, my father's family was wiped out by Hitler in the Holocaust. I know about what crazy and radical and extremist politics mean."
Hitler references are not new territory in the political arena of battle -- many politicians past have received such treatment, including Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush. But surrounding Trump, the chatter appears to be a bit different, in both its sources and its ubiquity.
It is rare for a major party candidate like Sanders to make such an explicit comparison, said Justin Holmes, assistant professor of political science at the University of Northern Iowa and expert in American politics and political psychology. (Fellow Democratic contender Hillary Clinton made a more veiled reference in August.) Moreover, it is unique for so many others to be drawing the same analogies.
"What's new about this is the prevalence. That is kind of a fringe-y argument to make most of the time," said Holmes. "It's pretty unique to see that out in the open like this."
Comedian Louis C.K. in a promotional email blast on March 5 included a lengthy postscript encouraging fans not to vote for Trump. "Please stop it with voting for Trump. It was funny for a little while. But the guy is Hitler. And by that I mean that we are being Germany in the '30s. Do you think they saw the s*** coming? Hitler was just some hilarious and refreshing dude with a weird comb over who would say anything at all," he wrote, later calling the billionaire businessman an "insane bigot," "dangerous" and a "cancer."
In a Friday episode with "Real Time with Bill Maher," political commentator and comedian Maher compared Hitler and Trump, airing a clip of the Nazi dictator speaking with Trump-like quotes as subtitles. "We're going to make Germany great again, that I can tell you, believe me," the subtitles read. The text also called the Treaty of Versailles a "terrible deal" and President Paul von Hindenburg "very low energy."
Maher also referenced a 1990 Vanity Fair interview with Trump's ex-wife, Ivana, that reports she once told her lawyer that her husband kept a book of Hitler's collected speeches at his bedside.
"Saturday Night Live" ran a spoof Trump ad tying Trump to Hitler as well, mocking his supporters with a "Racists for Trump" commercial, portraying supporters as Klansmen, Nazis and Islamophobes. The spot appears at least in part to be a reaction to Trump's response to whether he wanted the support of white supremacist David Duke and the KKK.
The references don't stop in the world of comedy.
Conservative pundit Glenn Beck made the analogy on ABC's "This Week" with George Stephanopoulos on March 6. "We all look at Adolf Hitler in 1940. We should look at Adolf Hitler in 1929," he said. "He was a kind of funny kind of character that said the things people were thinking. Where Donald Trump takes it, I have no idea. But Donald Trump is a dangerous man with the things that he has been saying."
A rally over the weekend in Orlando, Fla. has drawn comparisons to 1930s Nazi rallies as well. At the event, Trump asked his supporters to raise their right hands and swear to vote for him for president, no matter what. "Bad things happen if you don't live up to what you just did," he said.
But comparing Trump to Hitler may be going too far, said David Harsanyi, conservative pundit and senior editor at The Federalist, though there is cause for concern about the real estate magnate in general.
"I think it's fair... to worry about Donald Trump's authoritarian instincts," he said. "Yes, some of these rallies, and some of the cult of personality around him is reminiscent of fascism in the '30s, but Hitler had already written Mein Kampf, and we had a good idea about the things he wanted to do. I don't think Trump's policies, or potential policies, raise to the levels of Hitler."
But as Trump's path to the Republican nomination becomes increasingly clear and the GOP ratchets up efforts to stop him, the critiques do matter -- not only those leveled over the weekend but also the ones originating from within his own party, like Mitt Romney's condemnation of the billionaire last week.
"It's a warning to people who support him, but more a warning to people who don't support him yet but might support him," Harsanyi said. "That's aimed at people on the fence or people who aren't paying that much attention."
As to whether the latest round of attacks on Trump, related to Hitler and otherwise, will have any impact on his support, it is difficult to tell. Thus far, nothing appears to have made much of a difference, and Holmes warned such attacks can have a blowback effect against those leveling them.
Trump has shrugged off the Hitler comparisons in the past. In the wake of unveiling his Muslim ban plan and a Philadelphia Daily News cover portraying Trump holding his right hand up in a speech with the headline "The New Furor," he told Stephanopoulos in an interview that he wasn't concerned about comparisons to Hitler and instead aligned his positioning with U.S. president (and Hitler foe) Franklin D. Roosevelt. "What I'm doing is no different than FDR," he said.