Donald Trump's new normal: protesters, violence and name-calling
Each extraordinary moment over the weekend has virtually no precedent in modern presidential politics
Showing few signs of trying to ease the nation's tense political atmosphere, Republican front-runner Donald Trump is standing by his antagonistic campaign rhetoric, rejecting any responsibility for violence at his rallies and defending his supporters who have been charged with assaulting protesters.
"We're not provoking. We want peace. ... We don't want trouble," he told a large crowd in Bloomington, Ill., the first of two comparatively docile events Sunday as he campaigns ahead of another critical slate of large-state primaries.
In a Republican presidential primary filled with extraordinary moments, a 48-hour stretch that began Friday stands above them all.
On Friday, groupings of well-organized students succeeded in keeping Trump from even taking the stage at a rally in Chicago.
The next morning, a protester rushed the stage at a Trump rally outside of Dayton, Ohio, forcing Secret Service agents to leap on stage and form a protective circle around him.
"Thank you for the warning," Trump told the crowd in Ohio after he resumed his speech. "I was ready for them, but it's much better if cops do it, don't we agree?"
After months spent goading protesters and appearing to encourage violence, Trump has seen his raucous rallies devolve over the past two weeks into events at which chaos is expected, where the real estate mogul is routinely unable to deliver a speech without interruption and a heavy security presence is commonplace amid increasingly violent clashes between protesters and supporters.
Welcome to Trump's new normal.
Each moment over the weekend has virtually no precedent in modern presidential politics. Taken together, they exposed anew the remarkable anxiety ripping through a country dealing with profound economic and demographic changes, as well as the anger roiling inside one of America's great political parties.
Several of the protesters in Chicago said they are supporters of Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.
"They're Bernie fans," said Trump in during a rally in Cleveland as protesters were escorted out. "Hey, Bernie, get your people in line, Bernie."
In Cleveland, Brandon Krapes said he was punched repeatedly after he held up his sign, which said, "Trump: Making America Racist Again." His 17-year-old son Logan had a freshly bruised cheek from what he said was a punch in the face he received while trying to help his father.
Sean Khurana, a 23-year-old Indian-American student, said someone called him "ISIS" as he stood in line for Trump's Cleveland rally, where a dozen officers on horseback patrolled the outside as police helicopters buzzed overhead.
"The sheer amount of hatred in there is so blatant, and Trump does nothing to stop it," he said. "He provokes it."
Things weren't much different in Kansas City, Mo., where protesters interrupted Trump throughout his speech. While he asked his supporters not to hurt them, a visibly annoyed Trump also said he was "going to start pressing charges against all these people."
At a rally in North Carolina, an older white Trump supporter was caught on video punching a younger African-American protester as police led the protester out of a rally. The supporter, later charged with assault, told an interviewer the next time he confronted a protester, "We might have to kill him."
Trump said he is considering paying the legal fees for the man who threw the punch.
'I'm a little shocked that we got to this point'
Trump's rivals have spent months tiptoeing around his provocative comments for fear of alienating his impassioned supporters, but the images spilling out of Chicago appeared to be too much.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Florida Senator Marco Rubio said he may not be able to support Trump if he's the Republican nominee, citing the way he's "dividing both the party and the country so bitterly."
"You have a leading contender for president telling people in his audience, `Go ahead and punch someone in the face; I'll pay your legal bills,"' Rubio said.
"That's wrong if our kids did it; that is disastrous if a president does it," he added.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who has largely avoided tangling with Trump until now, said the real estate mogul has created a "toxic environment" that makes it "extremely difficult" to envision supporting him as the Republican nominee.
"Frankly, I'm a little shocked that we got to this point, I'm shocked at it," Kasich said.
"To see Americans slugging themselves at a political rally deeply disturbed me. We're better than that."
Only Texas Senator Ted Cruz, who is closest to Trump in the delegate count, said he would unequivocally support the businessman if he emerges from the primary victorious. Still, Cruz — eager for Rubio and Kasich to get out of the race after their home-state primaries on Tuesday so he can take Trump on in a head-to-head contest — blamed his rival for encouraging the kind of "nasty violence" that occurred in Chicago.
Interrupted only sparingly in Bloomington on Sunday, Trump assured his backers their frustration is righteous rage against a corrupt political and economic system. He cast his naysayers as "bad people" that "do harm to the country."
With his delegate lead mounting, there's little evidence that Trump sees any reason to alter an approach that includes encouraging his supporters to aggressively — and sometimes physically — stop protesters from interrupting his raucous rallies.
Instead, Trump said at Saturday's rally in Cleveland he thought all the disruptions would help him.
"It just makes all of our friends and supporters more angry," he said, predicting a "resounding victory" in Tuesday's crucial voting contests.
Following the speech, Trump took to Twitter to celebrate a successful day on the campaign trail.
Just finished my second speech. 20K in Dayton & 25K in Cleveland- perfectly behaved crowd. Thanks- I love you, Ohio! <a href="https://t.co/IDmwG5FQsw">pic.twitter.com/IDmwG5FQsw</a>—@realDonaldTrump