President Obama, shortly before the Friday evening fracas at a Donald Trump rally in his hometown of Chicago, criticized the fractured Republican Party and reiterated his view that Republicans brought the dissonance upon themselves.
“We’ve got a debate inside the other party that is fantasy and schoolyard taunts and selling stuff like it’s the Home Shopping Network,” he told supporters at a fundraiser in Austin, before turning to the incendiary statements that Trump has made about Muslims and Latinos.
“And then you’ve got the Republican establishment -- they’re very exercised: 'We’re shocked that somebody would be saying these things. We’re shocked that somebody is fanning anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-Muslim sentiment. We’re shocked!'”
Obama spoke shortly before protesters clashed with Trump supporters at the site of a rally in Chicago, prompting Trump to cancel the event.
Obama seemed to relish mocking the GOP establishment’s struggle to deal with the possibility that Trump would be their standard-bearer, recalling when Trump was at the forefront of the so-called birther movement that questioned whether Obama was constitutionally eligible to be president.
“This is the guy, remember, who was sure that I was born in Kenya. Who just wouldn’t let it go,” said Obama, who released his long-form birth certificate in 2011 as Trump increasingly hammered the false notion that the president was born overseas and therefore ineligible to be president. “And all this same Republican establishment, they weren’t saying nothing. As long as it was directed at me, they were fine with it. They thought it was a hoot. Wanted to get his endorsement. And then now, suddenly, we’re shocked that there’s gambling going on in this establishment.”
Obama argued that the seeds that Republicans and sympathetic media outlets have sown throughout his presidency were now flowering, to the GOP’s detriment.
“I don’t take pleasure in seeing what’s going on in the other side,” he said.
“We need a healthy two-party system. We’ve got to have serious debate. And Democrats need to have somebody who is questioning and challenging some of our own dogmas and our own blind spots. And each party has to have some mechanism to be self-critical and step back and say, all right, are we really trying to solve problems here or just trying to score points and win elections?”
Violence splashed across the television screen Friday night like a horrific flashback from the 1960s, as fistfights and shoving broke out among thousands of supporters and opponents at a Donald Trump event in Chicago, drawing memories of police and protesters fighting in the streets of the same city during another political gathering in 1968.
Nothing about it was surprising.
What many had feared as Trump’s campaign has proceeded had finally happened on a large scale: A flammable brew of populist anger, campaign mismanagement, a candidate’s own provocative encouragement and protesters fighting back — quite literally — finally found its fuse. The explosion was predictable, given tensions in the country around its changing demographic face and economic displacement that has left many fearful and upset, receptive audiences for Trump’s surprisingly strong candidacy.
Trump himself was not present; he canceled his event half an hour after it was due to begin, citing security concerns. The candidate’s statement said that the campaign had determined that “for the safety of all of the tens of thousands of people that have gathered in and around the arena,” the event would not be held. It was after the cancellation that clashes broke out among audience members and between audience members and police.
"Please go in peace," the Trump statement said.
Peace will be a hard sell, because much of this plays to the desires of the participants.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who has generally taken a kinder, gentler tone in this raucous GOP nominating contest, called for unity in response to Friday night's mayhem ahead of a scrapped Donald Trump event in Chicago.
"The seeds of division that Donald Trump has been sowing this whole campaign finally bore fruit, and it was ugly," Kasich said in a statement. "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."
Kasich appealed to Americans' sense of togetherness, saying, "We are great because we are a peaceful people who live by the rule of law.
"We are stronger together, we will reject those who try to divide us for personal gain and we will do it the right way—at the ballot box," he said.
Rubio: 'We have reached a breaking point in our politics'
Marco Rubio tried to have it both ways Friday night, saying that the disturbances at Friday’s Donald Trump rally were due to organized, perhaps professional protesters, but that the GOP front-runner bears responsibility for a divisive message.
“We have reached a breaking point in our politics,” Rubio said in an interview on CNN.
The Florida senator said the protests that erupted at Trump’s Chicago rally were not “organic,” but he simultaneously faulted the message the businessman has put forward as divisive.
“He bears responsibility for … the general tone and atmosphere of his campaign, which has been about things like the reason why things are going wrong in your life or in this country is because of this group of people versus that group of people,” Rubio said, in comments similar to ones he made on Fox News.
He noted that violent protests have not broken out at his rallies, nor those of GOP rivals Ted Cruz or John Kasich, or Democrats Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders.
“There’s something different going on here,” Rubio said.
“Trump needs to own up to the fact that the rhetoric he has used at some of his events has contributed to the climate that you’ve seen in other rallies he’s had,” said Rubio, who is facing a critical test in Tuesday’s Florida primary. “There are consequences to the things people say in politics. A president, for example, can’t just speak his mind.”
That's the message the director of a major progressive group endorsing Bernie Sanders had for Donald Trump on Friday night after hundreds of protesters clashed with Trump supporters at a planned Trump campaign rally in Chicago.
Ilya Sheyman, executive director of MoveOn.org's political action group, blamed Trump for the evening's unrest in a statement issued to the group's members.
“Mr. Trump and the Republican leaders who support him and his hate-filled rhetoric should be on notice after tonight’s events," Sheyman said. "These protests are a direct result of the violence that has occurred at Trump rallies and that has been encouraged by Trump himself from the stage."
Sheyman, representing one of several left-leaning groups working to elect Sanders, thanked the protesters for their actions.
"To all of those who took to the streets of Chicago, we say thank you for standing up and saying enough is enough," Sheyman said. "To Donald Trump, and the GOP, we say, welcome to the general election."
It was unclear exactly how Friday's action was organized, and by whom. Protesters at the rally included Latinos, some of whom held signs decrying Trump's comments about Mexican immigrants, and Muslims, who disparaged Trump's vow to indefinitely bar Muslims from entering the country.
Another group that also supports Sanders, People for Bernie — an offshoot of the Occupy Wall Street movement — sent a tweet warning that even bigger battles may be ahead.
Rubio implies that Obama and Trump both bear responsibility in Chicago chaos
Reacting to the upheaval at Donald Trump's canceled Chicago rally, Sen. Marco Rubio said Friday night that this is a “very disturbing moment in our political discourse” and pointed to “real significant anger and frustration at the direction of the country.”
“America is better than this,” Rubio said on a call to Fox News. “We don't have to tear each other apart.”
Rubio said he did not blame Trump for tonight’s events but the Republican front-runner “does bear responsibility for other things that have happened at his events,” citing one instance in which Trump said he wished he could punch a protester in the face.
Rubio also pinned some of the blame on President Obama.
"President Obama has spent the last eight years dividing Americans along haves and have-nots, along ethnic lines, racial lines in order to win elections,” Rubio said. "I think this has gone to the next level here and I think we're seeing the consequences in it.”
Rubio also blamed the “professional protesters,” some of whom, he asserted, were being paid to be there.
He said that on the political left, there's "a sense that if you don't like what someone's saying, you can just shut them down.”
In a gaggle with reporters Friday night, Ted Cruz said Donald Trump shares blame for the violence at his events with the protesters.
"In any campaign, responsibility starts at the top," he said. "Any candidate is responsible for the culture of the campaign. 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 discord.”
Hours before Donald Trump canceled a Chicago rally Friday amid a racially charged clash between protesters and his supporters, the New York real estate mogul taunted demonstrators whose shouting interrupted him in St. Louis.
“Go home and get a job,” Trump snapped at the Missouri protesters. “Go home to mommy.”
For months, the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination has used protester disruptions as a theatrical device at his raucous rallies in sports arenas across the nation.
“Get ‘em out,” he shouts, as he did in St. Louis. “Get ‘em out. Come on. Let’s go. Get ‘em out.”
Donald Trump encourages his supporters to surround and shout down protesters with chants of “USA,” and has openly pined for “the old days,” when, he says, noisy demonstrators would be carried out of a political rally on stretchers. Here are some of his comments during previous rallies:
At a Missouri rally:
Go home and get a job. Go home to mommy.
To a Las Vegas casino rally crowd last month when one protester was ejected:
I’d like to punch him in the face.
After telling a Missouri crowd that protesters were “destroying our country.”
These are not good people, folks, just so you understand. I heard this was going to happen. They said, ‘Mr. Trump, would you like to cancel?’ I said, ‘Absolutely not.’ These are not good people.”