A day after violent protests prompted Donald Trump to cancel a rally, the Republican presidential front-runner blamed the activist group MoveOn.Org and supporters of Senator Bernie Sanders for the chaos, while defending his own “harassed” supporters.
“When they have organized, professionally staged wise-guys—we’ve got to fight back. We’ve got to fight back,” Trump said at an event in Dayton, Ohio, adding that it’s Sanders, vying for the Democratic nomination, who should urge supporters to stop protesting. “With Bernie, he should really get up and say to his people, ‘Stop. Stop.’ Not me.”
“As is the case virtually every day, Donald Trump is showing the American people that he is a pathological liar,” Sanders said in an e-mailed response. “Obviously, while I appreciate that we had supporters at Trump’s rally in Chicago, our campaign did not organize the protests.”
MoveOn.org said Trump’s “hate-filled rhetoric” was the catalyst. “These protests are a direct result of the violence that has occurred at Trump rallies and that has been encouraged by Trump himself from the stage,” Ilya Sheyman, executive director of MoveOn.Org Political Action, said in a statement on the group’s Facebook page.
Hundreds of protesters were on hand at Friday’s fractious event at the University of Illinois at Chicago. The ensuing melee followed weeks of escalating tensions between protesters and some attendees at Trump’s rallies, scuffles that have gone viral on social media. On Friday in St. Louis, a bloody-faced demonstrator was led from a Trump event.
The chaos has revealed cracks in a pledge by other Republican candidates to support Trump if he clinches the party’s nomination. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida and Ohio Governor John Kasich, in separate appearances on Saturday, accused the billionaire real-estate developer of stoking divisions to gain votes, and said the rhetoric is disastrous for their party and the nation. The pair, along with Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, both pledged in a debate earlier this month to support the nominee.
Rubio, speaking to reporters before an event in Largo, Florida, said the violence and divisiveness at Trump’s rallies has become a pattern. He wavered on an earlier vow to support the eventual Republican nominee even if it’s Trump.
“I still at this moment intend to support the Republican nominee, but it’s getting harder every day,” said Rubio, whose campaign hopes hinge largely on winning the Florida primary on March 15. “This is a man who, at rallies, has told supporters to basically beat up people in the crowd and he’ll pay their legal fees.”
“Last night in Chicago we saw images that made America look like a Third World country,” Rubio told several hundred supporters at a rally. Like Trump, though, he also slammed “the American left” for disruptive actions.
Trump has created “a toxic environment” that’s allowed for violence at his rallies, Kasich said at a breakfast appearance in suburban Cincinnati, Ohio. It’s right to acknowledge the frustration and anger that many voters have about politics, yet “there is no place for a national leader to prey on the fears of people.”
Kasich, who faces his own home-state primary test this week, said he was “deeply disturbed” by the tenor of the race. “You don’t get down in the mud and wrestle,” he said. “If our rhetoric is negative, our rhetoric is divisive, we will not solve these problems that the American people expect us to fix.”
Kasich said recent events were making it “extremely difficult” to stand by his pledge to support Trump if the billionaire is the party’s nominee.
Trump and Kasich are running neck-and-neck in Ohio, according to a summary of recent opinion polls by Real Clear Politics.
Kasich vowed that he will be the Republican nominee, winning Ohio on Tuesday as a springboard to success in other states. Kasich has vowed to drop out if he fails to win his home state.
While Kasich is a distant fourth in delegates after finishing no higher than second in any state contest so far, he said there are more than 1,000 delegates to be awarded, and that he could still go into the party’s convention in Cleveland in July with the largest number.
“I will not seek the low road to the highest office in America,” Kasich said at the breakfast, drawing a standing ovation. Trump abruptly canceled Friday’s rally at the University of Illinois at Chicago in the face of furious protests, which set off a melee of shoving and taunting between supporters and opponents.
At other Trump rallies, the Republican front-runner has often called for protesters to be ejected and has mused about whether they deserve physical abuse, even as he says he doesn’t condone it.
Not all saw the clashes as a problem. Richard Talaga, 51, a Trump supporter who attended Friday’s canceled rally in Chicago, said the passions on display were evidence of a revived democracy.