Donald Trump's Rhetoric Is Contagious

Back in August, Donald Trump courted controversy when he made a comment at a rally that seemed to suggest the assassination of Hillary Clinton. He was roundly criticized for saying of his opponent: "Hillary wants to abolish, essentially abolish the Second Amendment. By the way, if she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks. Though the Second Amendment people, maybe there is, I don't know." Three months later, Sen. Richard Burr, a Republican from North Carolina facing a tight race for reelection, is in hot water for making a comment expressing something similar.

In audio from a fundraiser obtained by CNN, Burr also talks about his desire to stop Clinton from appointing a Supreme Court justice (to the point of denying consideration of any nominee at all), and his feeling that gun advocates should want her shot. His comment was met with laughs from those in attendance.

Nothing made me feel any better than when I walked into a gun shop, I think yesterday in Oxford, and there was a copy of Rifleman on the counter. It's got a picture of Hillary Clinton on the front of it. I was a little bit shocked that it didn't have a bull's-eye on it.

Unlike Trump, Sen. Burr apologized when his comment sparked a firestorm. "The comment I made was inappropriate, and I apologize for it," he said in a statement. In the midst of a neck-and-neck Senate race, Burr's Democratic opponent, Deborah Ross, said the comment was "not befitting a senator."

Even as Burr has pulled back from his more outlandish statements, his comment displays something that's been happening across the Republican party — extreme rhetoric like that of Trump is becoming the norm among politicians who had previously seemed more reigned in. Burr is not the only Republican senator who says he would deny the incoming president any chance of nominating a Supreme Court judge.

He is also not the only one who has said something that would have been considered inconceivable just a few months ago. In a debate for the Illinois Senate race, Se. Mark Kirk insulted Rep. Tammy Duckworth's Thai heritage in response to an answer about her military service (in which she lost two legs).

In the midst of an election where the Republican nominee is violating long-held political norms and changing the image of what a Republican is supposed to be, many in the party are trying to swim against the tide. Paul Ryan, the Republican Speaker of the House, has spent months advocating an agenda he calls "A Better Way," an implicit rebuke of Trump's version of the GOP. With candidates like Burr and Kirk unshackling their mouths, it seems that Trump's way is rising.