In an election cycle filled with controversy and ugly disputes, last night offered a potential turning point. Donald Trump’s campaign felt the need to cancel an event in Chicago, where the Republican candidate was campaigning in advance of Tuesday’s primary, purportedly in the interest of public safety.
It was the culmination of months of developments in which Trump has practically encouraged violence against his protesters, which has led to actual violent confrontations at Trump events, and which in turn has intensified clashes such as those seen in Chicago last night.
Rachel documented on the show last night, there can be no doubt about the escalating aggression from the GOP presidential hopeful, and the degree to which Trump has played a direct role in stoking hostility. It’s a dynamic that some of Trump’s Republican rivals are now willing to publicly criticize. MSNBC’s Benjy Sarlin reported, for example, on the reaction from Trump’s most competitive rival:As
“I think a campaign bears responsibility for creating an environment,” Texas Senator Ted Cruz told reporters in Illinois Friday night, as networks beamed in live footage of the protests. “When a candidate urges supporters to engage in physical violence, to punch people in the face, the predictable consequence of that is that it escalates, and today is unlikely to be the last such instance.”
Cruz added, “[I]n any campaign, responsibility starts at the top. And when you have a campaign that disrespects the voters, when you have a campaign that affirmatively encourages violence, when you have a campaign that is facing allegations of physical violence against members of the press, you create an environment that only encourages this sort of nasty discourse.”
Around the same time, Ohio Gov. John Kasich said, “Tonight the seeds of division that Donald Trump has been sowing this whole campaign finally bore fruit, and it was ugly. Some let their opposition to his views slip beyond protest into violence, but we can never let that happen. I urge people to resist that temptation and rise to a higher level.”
Marco Rubio, however, took his concerns in a slightly different direction. In fact, the Florida senator seemed eager to argue that Trump isn’t solely responsible for the violence Trump seems to be encouraging.
“I want to be clear: I am not telling you what happened there tonight is something I blame [Trump] for because I will tell you those people there are professional protesters in an array of different interest groups,” Rubio told Fox News. “I guarantee you some of these people are being paid to do this.”He added that “there’s blame to go around” in creating today’s heated political environment around Trump, and singled out Obama.“President Obama has spent the last eight years dividing Americans among haves and have-nots, along ethnic lines, racial lines, gender lines in order to win elections,” Rubio said. “I think this has gone to the next level here, and we’re seeing the consequences of it.”
In Marco Rubio’s mind, Donald Trump can spend months egging on his most aggressive and confrontational supporters, effectively encouraging violence against protesters, and when there’s unrest, the senator wants to blame President Obama and “the left.”
Rubio was willing to say, “I wouldn’t say Mr. Trump is responsible for the events of tonight, but he is most certainly, in other events, has in the past used some pretty rough language, saying, ‘In the good old days we used to beat these people up,’ or ‘I’ll pay your legal bills if you rough them up.’ So I think he bears some responsibility for the general tone.”
How gracious of him. Assigning Trump “some” responsibility is fine, just so long as it’s not too much, since Rubio also wants to make sure the public blames the president, liberals, and the protesters the senator believes without proof are being paid.
When we talk about the bankruptcy of Republican politics in 2016, let’s not forget the problem isn’t limited to the guy at the top of the GOP polls.