Donald Trump has said he will be a dictator “just for day one” of his presidency if he is re-elected amid a spate of grim warnings over consequences if the twice-impeached and criminally indicted former president wins the 2024 presidential election.
Mr Trump appeared to duck the question twice during a Fox News townhall on Tuesday when Sean Hannity categorically asked him to say that he will not abuse presidential powers if he wins the elections.
“Do you in any way have any plans whatsoever, if re-elected president, to abuse power?” Hannity asked. “To break the law? To use the government to go after people?”
“You mean like they’re using right now?” Mr Trump, the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination said, deflecting the questions.
Mr Trump lamented that what happened to his administration has not happened in the history of America and that he has been indicted more times than the gangster Al Capone.
But Hannity pressed Mr Trump again to promise Americans that he will never abuse power as a president.
“You are promising America tonight, you would never abuse this power as retribution against anybody?” he repeated.
“Except for Day 1,” Mr Trump said swiftly. "I want to close the border and I want to drill, drill, drill."
“Look,” Mr Trump said to the crowd in Davenport, Iowa. “He’s going crazy,” he joked referring to Hannity.
"I love this guy," he said of the Fox News host. "He says, ‘You’re not going to be a dictator, are you?’ I said: ‘No, no, no, other than day one. We’re closing the border and we’re drilling, drilling, drilling. After that, I’m not a dictator."’
It comes as lawmakers and commentators are issuing warnings and predicting consequences of Mr Trump’s return to power.
Several Democrats, including Joe Biden, have expressed alarm over Trump’s campaign rhetoric and radical proposals for a second term that include the mass dismissal of large swaths of the federal bureaucracy and a focus on targeting his political adversaries.
"Donald Trump has been telling us exactly what he will do if he’s re-elected and tonight he said he will be a dictator on day one. Americans should believe him," president Joe Biden’s campaign manager Julie Chavez Rodriguez said in a statement in response to Mr Trump’s comments.
Mr Biden on Tuesday again warned that Mr Trump and his allies are out to "destroy" democratic institutions as he assailed the GOP front-runner at a series of fundraisers.
"If Trump wasn’t running, I’m not sure I’d be running. But we cannot let him win,” he said at a campaign event in Massachusetts.
Mr Trump was US president between 2017 and 2021, and has refused to concede that he lost to Mr Biden in the 2020 election.
Since then Mr Trump has spread false claims that the 2020 election was stolen from him, a conspiracy that fueled the deadly insurrection by Trump supporters at the US Capitol on 6 January 2021. Trump’s election lies also form a cornerstone of his current White House campaign.
Liz Cheney, a vocal critic of Mr Trump within the Republican Party, has also expressed concerns about the nation "sleepwalking into dictatorship" and said she is considering a third-party presidential candidacy as a potential measure to prevent such a scenario.
The questions at the town hall appeared to be a part of efforts by a longtime Mr Trump supporter and adviser Hannity to coach the former president to say things that will benefit him politically.
It comes a day before Mr Trump‘s leading rivals gather at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa for the fourth GOP debate that the former president is expected to miss.