Donald Trump is failing the test of leadership posed by the increasing violence at his rallies.
So are Republican officials who want the political rewards of riding the Trump wave without risking shared responsibility for the contemptible behavior he has encouraged in his followers.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield, for instance, spouts platitudes about “hatred, bigotry and violence” not having a place in American politics. But he and others don’t repudiate the candidate who is responsible for bringing those plagues to the 2016 presidential campaign.
Rather, McCarthy told reporters last week that Trump’s army of angry voters could help GOP challengers compete in more congressional districts, including Elk Grove, where Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones is seeking to unseat Rep. Ami Bera. Jones, for his part, said in an email that the campaign violence is “extremely unfortunate,” but that he hasn’t decided whether to endorse Trump or anyone else.
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The scary confrontations at Trump’s events came to a head over the weekend with a melee after his campaign canceled a rally in Chicago, and with a demonstrator being tackled by Secret Service agents before reaching a stage in Ohio.
Trump has been given repeated chances to stop this before something truly terrible happens, to accept his own culpability and, for once, to actually act presidential. Yet even Monday, Trump said no one is getting hurt in his “love fest” campaign.
Meanwhile, he refuses to disavow the incendiary comments about protesters (“I’d like to punch him in the face,” “They’d be carried out on a stretcher,” etc.) that have clearly led some true believers to take matters into their own hands – and fists. A sheriff in North Carolina investigated whether Trump incited a riot at a rally last week where a protester was hit, but said Monday night no charges would be filed.
Trump blames others, including Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders. He suggests he’ll pay the legal fees of supporters who get into trouble, and he threatens to press criminal charges against “disruptors.” And though he says he doesn’t condone violence, Trump continues to mock protesters as “bad dudes,” malcontents and “those people.”
As long as protesters are nonviolent, they have every right to voice their opposition to Trump, though common courtesy demands that once they make their point, they let him speak.
Crisis reveals character. Trump is unsuited to be president, a point underscored yet again over the weekend. We can only hope that voters going to the polls Tuesday see that truth before it’s too late.