In this late stage of the depressing 2016 Republican primary, Donald Trump’s three remaining rivals are looking to tar the front-runner as a con man and business fraud whose vulgar bullying shames the party of Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan. What does it mean, then, that on Thursday night all three whiffed at the chance to denounce what may be the most shocking aspect of the Trump phenomenon: the escalating violence, against protesters as well as the media, by pro-Trump mobs (and in one notorious instance, allegedly by Trump’s campaign manager)?
George Zornick laid it out here: Just as some in the mainstream media blame President Obama for the rise of Trump, Trump and his rivals now, likewise, blame the president for the increasing violence on the Trump campaign trail. At Thursday’s debate, CNN’s Jake Tapper asked all four candidates about the Wednesday night attack on a peaceful black protester who was sucker punched in the face by a Trump supporter. (“Next time we see him, we might have to kill him,” the man said; he was later charged with assault.) This is one of at least a dozen cases of protesters and the media being roughed up at Trump events, which Tapper noted the candidate has encouraged. “I’d like to punch him in the face,” Trump said about a demonstrator two weeks ago. On February 1, he told the crowd: “Knock the crap out of him, would you?”
Trump defended it, of course—“We have some protesters who are bad dudes, they have done bad things,” he told Tapper—but shockingly, his rivals dismissed it as well. Senator Ted Cruz essentially blamed Obama for Trump supporters’ violence: “You know, we’ve seen for seven years a president who believes he’s above the law,” Cruz said. Voters feel “disrespected by Washington” because “Washington isn’t listening to the people. And that’s the frustration that is boiling over.” Kasich blandly and sympathetically noted that “people are uptight” about job loss and low wages; Florida Senator Marco Rubio denounced “violence in general,” worked in a tribute to “our law enforcement officers,” acknowledged “people are angry” and tiptoed toward suggesting maybe, possibly Trump isn’t channeling that anger well. “Leadership is not about using the anger; leadership is about using the anger to motivate us, not to define us.”
That bowl of mush is as close as anyone got to criticizing the GOP front-runner for the violent mob behavior at his rallies. Unfortunately, Tapper didn’t ask a direct question about one of the worst examples of brutality: On Tuesday night, Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski allegedly grabbed a reporter by the arm to get her away from his boss, and threw her almost to the ground, leaving her in tears and with bruises on her arm. Shockingly, the reporter turned out to be Michele Fields of Breitbart.com, a faux-news website that has been slavishly devoted to promoting Trump.