The reality television star and Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump stoked controversy yet again this week, when he mocked a journalist with a chronic congenital condition during a campaign rally in South Carolina. The real estate mogul flailed his arms stiffly as he imitated Serge Kovaleski, a New York Times reporter who suffers from arthrogryposis, which limits joint movement.
Mr Kovaleski had provoked The Donald’s ire by disputing his claim to have witnessed “thousands” of Arab-Americans in New Jersey cheering as the World Trade Centre crumbled on 11 September 2001 – a long-discredited conspiracy theory, for which Mr Trump failed to present a scrap of evidence. “The sad part about it is, it didn’t in the slightest bit jar or surprise me that Donald Trump would do something this low-rent, given his track record,” Mr Kovaleski told The Washington Post.
Last weekend Mr Trump appeared to applaud his own supporters as they assaulted a Black Lives Matter activist during one of his campaign appearances. He subsequently appeared to tweet a set of false crime statistics suggesting 81 per cent of white murder victims were killed by black people; it was left to Bill O’Reilly of Fox News to tell him that the figures were incorrect.
This week, Mr Trump warned that President Barack Obama intends to allow 250,000 Syrian refugees to enter the US next year; the actual figure is 10,000. He called for the resumption of waterboarding to combat Isis and – most troubling of all – said he would support the establishment of a database to register Muslims in the US. The New York Times criticised the candidate for his “racist lies”, but others have begun to use a different word: fascism.
Max Boot, a military historian who advises Trump’s Republican rival Marco Rubio on foreign policy, wrote on Twitter: “Trump is a fascist. And that’s not a term I use loosely or often. But he’s earned it.” John Noonan, a national security adviser to Jeb Bush, tweeted: “Forced federal registration of US citizens, based on religious identity, is fascism. Period.”
Jim Gilmore, a former Governor of Virginia, who is also running for the Republican nomination, said in an interview that Mr Trump’s proposed immigration policies sounded like “fascist talk”; while Ohio’s Governor, John Kasich, is running a campaign ad that conflates Mr Trump’s rhetoric with Nazi Germany, paraphrasing the famous “First they came...” poem by the German pastor Martin Niemöller.
It isn’t just Mr Trump’s campaign rivals who have mentioned the “F-word”. An editorial in The Seattle Times argued that “Trump’s campaign message reflects a kind of creeping fascism,” while Slate’s chief political correspondent, Jamelle Bouie, wrote in an op-ed: “The rhetoric of fascism is here. And increasingly, the policies are too. The only thing left is the violence.”
Despite the criticism, Mr Trump remains well ahead of his fellow Republican contenders in recent national polls; a Washington Post/ABC News poll this week put his support at 33 per cent, 10 points clear of his closest rival, the retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson.