After several recent confrontations, Donald Trump should be going out of his way to make clear he has no tolerance for violence at his events. At least, that's what traditional political norms would dictate.
But if there's one thing we know for sure, it's that there's nothing traditional about Trump's Republican candidacy. Take, for example, this exchange
yesterday on NBC's "Meet the Press" between Chuck Todd and the GOP frontrunner regarding one of last week's most outrageous incidents.
TODD: I'm just curious, do you plan on paying for the legal fees of this older gentleman in North Carolina who sucker punched the protester? TRUMP: Well, I'm not aware. I will say this. I do want to see what that young man was doing. Because he was very taunting. He was very loud, very disruptive. And from what I understand, he was sticking a certain finger up in the air. And that is a terrible thing to do in front of somebody that frankly wants to see America made great again. [...] TODD: And that condones a sucker punch though? TRUMP: No, as I told you before, nothing condones. But I want to see. The man got carried away, he was 78 years old, he obviously loves his country, and maybe he doesn't like seeing what's happening to the country. I want to see the full tape. But I don't condone violence.
Asked if he might pay the legal fees of the accused 78-year-old assailant, Trump said, "Well, I'm going to look at it.... I've actually instructed my people to look into it, yes."
When we talk about Trump's role in effectively encouraging violence
against his critics, this interview brings the dynamic into sharper focus. On the one hand, the Republican candidate doesn't condone assault and battery, but on the other hand, if a man wants to make America great, he loves his country, and he takes a violent shot at a protester, Trump is not only willing to defend his supporter, he might pay the guy's legal fees.
In the same interview yesterday, Chuck Todd noted an incident in Dayton on Saturday in which a man rushed the stage where Trump was speaking, prompting Secret Service agents to intervene to protect the GOP candidate. Trump accused the man of having ISIS ties, pointing to online evidence that turned out to be a hoax. After some back and forth, the on-air discussion led to this exchange:
TODD: We have checked it. That's my point, sir. There's no ties to ISIS for this man. No law enforcement official. And this video that you linked to appear to be a hoax. TRUMP: Okay, look, well, was it a hoax that he's dragging the flag? Was that him? It looked like the same man to me. He was dragging a flag along the ground and he was playing a certain type of music. And supposedly, there was chatter about ISIS. Now, I don't know. What do I know about it? All I know is what's on the Internet.
I don't know for sure what's going to happen in the race for the Republican nomination, but "All I know is what's on the Internet" is a pretty great phrase that helps capture Trump's understanding of the world.