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What Democrats Need To Know About Violence At Trump Rallies

Published with permission from the Washington Spectator.

This spring, Donald Trump added a new phrase to the stock of improvised riffs he throws out at his rallies: “I love my protesters.” And if my Twitter mentions are any indication, there are a lot of people who think they know why: disruptions inside or outside Trump’s events just might help elect him president.

Wrote one, a conservative: #Dems need to read @rickperlstein’s #Nixonland (#Liberalism gone amok led to riots, causing #conservative backlash.)” Liberals agree. “Rioting only makes Trump stronger,” wrote Esquire’s Charlie Pierce, linking to a clip of police responding to window-smashing and poster-burning at a Trump event in Albuquerque.

The syllogism is simple: first in 1966 with Ronald Reagan, then in 1968 and 1972 with Richard Nixon, Republicans ascended to higher office by pinning on the Democrats responsibility for riots and disruptive protests carried out on the left, successfully framing themselves (as I detailed in my 2008 book Nixonland) as the preservers of order and decorum in a society that seemed to be falling into chaos.

“Things are going to hell.”

“We need an ass-kicker in the White House.”

And presto, a generation of Republican presidents. Just read Rick Perlstein!

Well, I love my readers, conservative and liberal both. But the people using my historical work to make this particular argument need to read it less selectively and more attentively.

The first presidential candidate I wrote about who successfully exploited the anxieties of American voters about violence was Lyndon B. Johnson. When Theodore H. White wrote The Making of the President 1964, he included a long account of what happened in Birmingham in 1963. “Bombingham” was the nation’s epicenter of anti-black violence, where African-Americans led by Martin Luther King marched for integration and were set upon by police fire hoses and dogs while the whole world watched on TV.

His book began with the trauma of Kennedy’s assassination and continued with violent chaos throughout, because 1964 was a violent year. Some of it came from the right: the Klan bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in the fall of 1963 and the Klan murder of three civil rights workers in Mississippi in 1964; ruffianism at such political meetings as the Young Republicans Convention of 1963; all sorts of mayhem associated with the John Birch Society and its ideological cognates, like the time a Dallas matron clomped U.N. Ambassador Adlai Stevenson on the head with a protest sign.

And some of it came from the left—at least if you accept the political semiotics of the time that held black militancy responsible for the first summer of urban race riots of the 1960s, which began in Harlem directly following the Republican National Convention in 1964.

As for the most profound incident of political violence in the U.S. since the Civil War, the Kennedy assassination, the perpetrator was a Communist, but until that fact was established, the almost universal presumption was that right-wingers—Klansmen, H.L. Hunt, Birchers, whatever—must have been responsible; because at that time it was right-wingers whom most Americans held responsible for all signs of political chaos. Barry Goldwater was held to be a symbol of those strange, scary forces (even those riots by black people).

The Johnson campaign worked brilliantly and indefatigably to exacerbate that public perception. LBJ prevailed, in an electoral landslide. #Conservatism gone amok led to riots, the electorate reasoned. Rioting only made LBJ stronger.

Then, of course, 1966: Ronald Reagan, excoriating “the mess at Berkeley” and its “orgies so vile I can’t even describe them to you,” drafting off the white backlash following the Watts riots and winning the California governorship. Then 1968, when Nixon borrowed Reagan’s script: “As we look at America, we see cities enveloped in smoke and flame. We hear sirens in the night,” Nixon cried melodramatically in his speech accepting the nomination. “We see Americans hating each other; fighting each other, killing each other at home. And as we see and hear these things, millions of Americans cry out in anguish. Did we come all this way for this? Did American boys die in Normandy, and Korea, and in Valley Forge for this?” He pledged a “new attorney general” who understood that “the first right of every American is to be free from domestic violence.”

He won, of course. Then, in 1972, he staged himself once more as the man who could finally end the climate of violence in the nation—as if he hadn’t already been president for the past four years. And achieved the greatest landslide in U.S. history.

But there was another election in between. Nixon put enormous stock in the 1970 off-year congressional elections. (Another Watergate discovery was that Nixon organized a secret illegal slush fund for his favored candidates.) Nixon, and especially his attack dog Vice President Spiro Agnew, in the wake of a series of burnings of campus buildings across the country, hit the road to make the case that the country was on the verge of a violent left-wing putsch and that voting Republican was the only way to stave it off.

The Republicans broadcasted an election-eve speech from a Phoenix airplane hangar, a Trump-like affair in which the president sought to close the sale by speaking about a recent rally of his in San Jose, California (the same city, coincidentally, where two weeks ago Trump fans were pummeled by anti-Trump protesters). In San Jose, the presidential motorcade had been showered with protesters’ rocks. “For too long, we have appeased aggression here at home, and, as with all appeasement, the result has been more aggression and more violence!” Nixon, sounding much like Trump, said in Phoenix. “The time has come to draw the line. The time has come for the great silent majority of Americans of all ages, of every political persuasion, to stand up and be counted against appeasement of the rock throwers and the obscenity shouters in America.”

In fact, Nixon’s advance men had carefully arranged for the motorcade in San Jose to pass by those angry protesters, all but staging the incident. #Liberalism gone amok led to riots, causing #conservative backlash: Nixon was betting on it.

But the Democrats broadcast their own election-night speech. In it, Senator Edmund Muskie sat calmly in an armchair in his Maine home and explained—softly—that the election came down to a decision between “the politics of fear and the politics of trust. One says: you are encircled by monstrous dangers. Give us power over your freedom so we may protect you. The other says: the world is a baffling and hazardous place, but it can be shaped to the will of men. In voting for the Democratic Party tomorrow, you cast your vote for trust, not just in leaders or policies, but trusting your fellow citizens, in the ancient tradition of this home for freedom and, most of all, for trust in yourself.”

The next day, America went to the polls, and overwhelmingly expanded the majority of the Democratic Party in both houses of Congress.

That’s the score: four elections, two where violence drove the electorate toward the Republicans, and two where violence drove the electorate toward the Democrats. And here is the heart of the pattern. Listen to what Richard Nixon said in that 1968 acceptance speech, after he invited Americans to listen to the sirens in the night, the angry voices, Americans hating each other, fighting each other, killing each other. Later in the speech, he invited them to listen to “another voice. It is the quiet voice in the tumult and the shouting.” That was the voice he promised to embody. He promised calm.

What made his promise credible were the images, three weeks later, at the Democratic convention: the worst violence at any convention in U.S. history. And the way that same chaos seemed to follow the Democratic nominee wherever he went—like the incident on October 31 when a rally for nominee Hubert Humphrey was interrupted by a naked woman who dashed down the aisle carrying the head of a pig on a charger. After she was apprehended, her male companion, also naked, seized the pig’s head, leapt to the stage, and presented it to the speaker, economist John Kenneth Galbraith.

Chaos seemed to follow the Democrats wherever they went. So Nixon, promising quiet, prevailed.

Then, two years later, when chaos seemed to follow the Republicans wherever they went—it was a Democrat, Edmund Muskie, who offered the credible appeal, quoted above, for quiet.

History, really, is not so neat as all this. Still and all, the evidence is suggestive. It’s not that the chaos of political rallies that devolve into mêlées invariably favors the authoritarian party of law and order. Instead, it is the party to whom chaos appears to attach itself that the public tends to reject—especially if the leaders of the opposing party do an effective job of framing themselves as the quiet, calm, and centering alternative.

That is the lesson for Hillary Clinton. What is the lesson for us? It’s most decidedly not to encourage chaos at Donald Trump rallies. This very act of encouragement, after all, clouds the story: it would make it credible to frame the Democrats as authors of chaos.

Trump is a fascist. Trumpism leads to riots. Already, the backlash in ensuing: in the first round of polling since both parties provisionally settled on their candidates, 70 percent of Americans said they viewed Trump unfavorably, 56 percent “strongly” unfavorably. Among independents he lags 38 points behind Hillary Clinton in favorability, 20 points behind among whites; and even among Republicans his favorability rating has plunged from 42 percent in April to 34 percent now. Asked to choose between the three candidates on the ballot, Clinton, Trump, and Libertarian Gary Johnson, polling has Trump 12 points behind. He is the pig on the platter. Let him stew in his own blood. The public recognizes the chaos of which he is author, and they are turning away in disgust.

Rick Perlstein is the Washington Spectator’s national correspondent.

Photo: Victor Cristobal (C), of San Jose, chants during a demonstration outside a campaign rally for Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump in San Jose, California, U.S. June 2, 2016. REUTERS/Stephen Lam 

Trump Refuses To Condemn Violence At His U.S. Presidential Rallies

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump said that “professional agitators” bore much of the blame for violence at his rallies as video showed a protester being beaten and another apparently being grabbed by Trump’s campaign manager.

Speaking on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday, Trump defended campaign manager Corey Lewandowski and declined to condemn supporters who have attacked protesters at his increasingly chaotic rallies.

Nor did he back down from his warning that there would be riots in the streets if the Republican Party denied him the nomination for the November election, despite his being the most popular candidate among Republican voters.

Senior figures in the party are openly plotting to prevent Trump from becoming the nominee because they view him as insufficiently conservative, and Trump was due to privately meet with some party leaders in Washington on Monday, the Washington Post reported.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I will say this, you’re going to have a lot of unhappy people,” he said on “This Week,” predicting anger at the party’s national convention in July should someone else end up the nominee. “I don’t want to see riots, I don’t want to see problems. But you’re talking about millions of people.”

Scenes of mayhem have become increasingly common at the billionaire New York businessman’s rallies, which have been frequently interrupted by protesters, many of them Democrats, who say Trump’s controversial remarks on immigrants and Muslims are dangerous. The 69-year-old candidate has sometimes encouraged his supporters using violence on protesters, and on at least one occasion said that he would like to punch a protester himself.

Television footage from an Arizona rally on Saturday showed a man punching and kicking a protester as he was led out of the event. Another video appeared to show Lewandowski grabbing a protester by the back of his shirt.

Trump declined to condemn the violence and said it was often provoked by protesters, who briefly blocked a highway leading to an Arizona rally on Saturday.

“These people are very disruptive people. They’re not innocent lambs,” he said.

He also defended Lewandowski and said a security official had actually grabbed the protester. Lewandowski also manhandled a reporter last week, according to the Washington Post.

“I give him credit for having spirit,” Trump said of Lewandowski.

Republican leaders have said Trump needs to more clearly discourage his supporters from engaging in violence.

About two dozen senior Republican figures will meet with Trump at a law firm near the Capitol on Monday afternoon in what the Trump campaign described as an effort to improve “party unity”, the Washington Post reported. The newspaper did not say who would be attending.

Candidates were also required to submit their most recently monthly financial disclosures to the Federal Election Commission on Sunday.

Hillary Clinton, the front-runner for the Democratic Party’s nomination, raised $30.1 million in February, according to filings, about $12 million less than that raised by chief rival, U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont in the same period.

Clinton began March with $31 million in cash on hand, according to filings.


(Additional reporting by Andrea Shalal, Ginger Gibson and Susan Cornwell in Washington, and Jonathan Allen in New York; Editing by Louise Ireland and Jonathan Oatis)

Photo: A member of the audience (R) throws a punch at a protester as Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a campaign event in Tucson, Arizona March 19, 2016. REUTERS/Sam Mircovich

Yuk It Up, America, While You Still Can

We will look back upon these days and laugh.

How could we not?

Won’t students of the future look back on this chapter in our nation’s history and think that some sort of joke was being played?

The front-runner of the Republican Party is pretending to be an unabashed bigot and outright thug.

Was he not joking when he called women bimbos, dogs and fat pigs?

And the incitements to violence! How could they not have been jokes? Donald Trump has a whole list of incitements that he goes through like a comic going through a monologue:

“Knock the crap out of him, would you? Seriously. OK? Just knock the hell — I promise you I will pay for the legal fees. I promise.”

“I love the old days. You know what they used to do to guys like that when they were in a place like this? They’d be carried out on a stretcher, folks. It’s true.”

“Get him out of here, please. Get him out. Get him out. Are you from Mexico? Are you from Mexico? Huh? Are you from Mexico? Right smack in the middle of my punch line!”

“Get out of here. Get out. Out! … This is amazing. So much fun. I love it. I love it. We having a good time?”

That’s all Trump wants: a good time. A steak, a bottle of wine and knocking the crap out of somebody. What could be more fun than that?

And Trump can keep things from getting out of hand. Don’t worry about it. Like when that guy rushed the stage in Ohio.

“It was probably ISIS or ISIS-related. Can you believe it?” Trump said. Then he tweeted: The U.S. Secret Service “did an excellent job stopping the maniac running to the stage. He has ties to ISIS. Should be in jail!”

Except the guy has no ties to the Islamic State group. He was charged with disorderly conduct and inducing panic, made bail and was allowed to go free.

Chuck Todd of “Meet the Press” later asked Trump what evidence he had that the guy has ties to ISIS.

“I don’t know,” Trump responded. “All I know is what’s on the Internet.”

And what more does a potential president really have to know? If it’s the truth, the Internet will print it. If it’s a dangerous lie, the Internet will print it.

So take your choice. And have some fun doing it.

Not everybody gets this. On Tuesday, President Barack Obama said the current campaign for president is “vulgar and divisive.”

“There are values that our parents taught us and that we try to teach to our children to try to treat others the way we want to be treated,” Obama said. He also said we should not have to explain to our children “this darker side” of U.S. politics.

But you know what I say to that? I say listen to Sarah Palin, whom Trump likes to go on the stump with because she adds intellectual heft to his campaign. Here is what she said at a rally in Tampa, Florida, on Monday:

“We don’t have time for … all that petty, punk-ass little thuggery stuff that’s been going on with these quote-unquote protesters, who are doing nothing but wasting your time and trying to take away your First Amendment rights. … And the media being on the thugs’ side — what the heck are you guys thinking, media?”

Me, I’m thinking: How did this person ever get the Republican nomination for vice president? But that was probably a joke, too.

Humor is part of our lives — which is why we use words such as “circus” to describe this current presidential election, because circuses are fun and harmless and it makes us feel less guilty when we are fascinated by it.

In an interview this month in The Washington Post, Joan Baez said of this election: “It’s entertaining, it’s insane and it’s sick and it’s nasty, and I’m like a lot of people: I can’t resist watching it. And then I turn it off and try to do something decent. Anything. Like have a cup of coffee.”

Which I think is as honest a statement as I have read recently.

On Sunday, in West Chester Township, Ohio, Trump was downcast that only one protester showed up and there was no big disruption of his speech. “In certain ways,” Trump said, “it makes it more exciting.”

The next day, at an airport in Vienna Township, Ohio, Trump said: “Tell your friends, ‘Vote for Trump.’ … You’ll look back two years from now, 10 years from now, 20 years from now and say, ‘That was the single greatest vote I ever cast.'”

And don’t worry about the consequences. Because it’s all just a circus. A laugh. A yuk. A hoot. A giggle.

Voting is your right — at least for now.

But two years from now, 10 years from now, 20 years from now, you may have to tell your children and your grandchildren just what you thought was so damn funny.

Roger Simon is Politico’s chief political columnist. His new e-book, “Reckoning: Campaign 2012 and the Fight for the Soul of America,” can be found on, and iTunes. To find out more about Roger Simon and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Web page at

Photo: Secret Service agents surround Donald Trump during a disturbance at Dayton International Airport in Dayton, Ohio, March 12, 2016.  REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein

Trump Issues Ridiculous Denial Against Claims He Is Inciting Violence at His Rallies

This article originally appeared on Alternet.

Donald Trump continues to claim he is not responsible for the violence at his rallies, despite his violent rhetoric.

On Monday, at a rally in Hickory, North Carolina, the GOP frontrunner sought to drive the message home. According to Trump, every presidential candidate faces these problems, despite the fact that no one has canceled an event due to them — except Trump.

Said Trump to the crowd:

Little Marco Rubio had an event two days ago — and he has very small crowds — and a [protester] stood up — that’s what they do, they’re disrupters. It happens to everybody, but they don’t report it when it happens to someone else. With me everyone gets reported. [But] they ripped this guy down, security or somebody [and] nobody reported it. With me, it’d be on every front page of every paper in the world. This guy stood up and he said a couple of things and they just ripped him to shreds. It was incredible.

Trump quickly emphasized he wasn’t promoting this behavior. “I don’t do that,” Trump explained. “I’m a peace-loving person. We all love peace.”

Trump is actually correct on a few points. Rubio did have a protester at one of his events this past Saturday, and he was taken down quickly. Rubio’s crowds are sufficiently smaller; so much smaller that the candidate was in shock. “That has never happened before,” Rubio told the crowd.

Rubio must have had a talk with security, because the protester who showed up at the central Florida rally Sunday was escorted out much more gently. Unlike Saturday’s, this protester’s agenda was more personal. “Rubio’s trying to steal my girlfriend!” he shouted, to which Rubio responded, “I didn’t even win New Hampshire!”

Alexandra Rosenmann is an AlterNet associate editor. Follow her @alexpreditor.