Is the violence at Trump's Chicago rally a campaign game-changer?

The violence last night in Chicago that resulted in the cancelation of a Donald Trump campaign rally won't affect the votes of the candidate's most ardent supporters – or opponents.

But there are a lot of voters who want to support Trump but aren't sure about him.  Then there are voters who lean against supporting Trump but who are persuadable.  It is those two classes of voters who could turn this GOP primary campaign on a dime and either give Trump a runaway victory or lead to a loss of support that would hand Ted Cruz a golden opportunity to run off a string of primary wins.

Which way these voters go will depend on their perception of what happened in Chicago and whether Trump himself is responsible for the violence.

His opponents believe he is:

Fellow Republican presidential candidates are speaking out after Donald Trump canceled his campaign rally in Chicago, Illinois amid massive crowds of protesters and what the Trump camp said were fears about safety.

"I think a campaign bears responsibility for creating an environment, when the candidate urges supporters to engage in physical violence to punch people in the face," Sen. Ted Cruzsaid, speaking to reporters at Rolling Meadows, Illinois. "The predictable consequence of that is that it escalates. And today is unlikely to be the last such instance...That's not how our politics should occur.

"You know, the city of Chicago in 1968, saw some ugly days when politics descended into hatred and instability and even violence. It is my hope that in 2016 we can appeal to our better angels and avoid going down that road once again."

Protesters and Trump supporters clashed outside an event in St. Louis and there were several scuffles inside the UIC Pavilion in Chicago. Trump has drawn fire for remarks that apparently encouraged violence against protesters, including saying in one instance that he wanted to punch someone in the face.

Five people were arrested, and two police officers were injured, Chicago Police said.

Sen. Marco Rubio argued it's Trump's rhetoric that is inciting violence at his events.

"I should point out there isn’t violence at my events," Rubio said. "There isn’t violence at Ted’s events. There isn’t violence at a Kasich event. There isn’t violence at a Clinton event."

"There is only one presidential candidate who has violence at their events. And I do think Donald needs to realize and take responsibility for the fact that some of the rhetoric he has used could be contributing to this environment that is growing increasingly disturbing for a number of Americans," Rubio told ABC News at a media availability in Naples, Florida.

Trump has used shocking rhetoric to urge his supporters to physically assault protesters:

At a press conference in Florida on Friday, Trump was asked about his rhetoric in the wake of an incident in which a supporter at a rally in Fayetteville, North Carolina, sucker-punched a black man in the face.

While he wasn't asked about that specific altercation, Trump said of violent behavior in general at his events: "The audience hit back and that's what we need a little bit more of." 

He also praised people using physical force at his rallies as "appropriate."


At a rally in Michigan in early March, Trump again seemed to give the green light to violent behavior. As a protester was being escorted out of the building, Trump marveled at what a "fun time" everyone was having.

"Get him out," he then said. "Try not to hurt him. If you do, I'll defend you in court, don't worry about it."

He then told an anecdote about a brawl at a prior rally that was "amazing to watch."


At a Las Vegas rally in late February, as a protester was again being removed from the premises, Trump lamented that "we're not allowed to punch back anymore" and reminisced about the halcyon "old days," when a protester would "be carried out on a stretcher."

The crowd is delighted, cheering, clapping and laughing.

He then said he'd like to punch the man in the face, again to cheers.

It is a legitimate question to ask whether such sickening rhetoric spurs violent responses to protesters.  It's also a legitimate question to ask whether the protests grow in size as a result of the threats.  Chicago and St. Louis showed that the threats of violence against demonstrators are certainly not deterring anyone from protesting.

Trump should be allowed to speak about anything, hold rallies anywhere, and his supporters should be free to gather to hear him.  This is the essence of American democracy, and the protesters should be damned for their efforts to silence the candidate. 

The violent protests will generate some sympathy for Trump.  But I think a lot more voters will be appalled that Trump's rhetoric has opened a chasm beneath our feet and given us a glimpse of hell.  Violence at political rallies makes us look like a banana republic and cheapens our democracy.  The protesters should be allowed to scream all they want outside the arenas were Trump rallies will take place.  And Trump should dial down the violent rhetoric that encourages his supporters to lash out at protesters.

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