Rivals of Donald Trump roundly condemned him Saturday for the violence that broke out at his canceled rally in Chicago, saying it was the inevitable result of what they described as his dangerous and inflammatory rhetoric.
Republicans and Democrats alike seized on the Chicago mayhem to join forces in a collective attack on the GOP presidential front-runner ahead of the crucial Florida, Ohio, Illinois and Missouri primaries on Tuesday.
Trump rival John Kasich, the Republican governor of Ohio, accused the New York billionaire of poisoning America’s political climate.
“There is no place for a national leader to prey on the fears of people,” Kasich told reporters outside Cincinnati on Saturday morning. “Donald Trump has created a toxic environment, and a toxic environment has allowed his supporters and those who sometimes seek confrontation to come together in violence.”
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio was equally blunt: “This boiling point that we have now reached has been fed largely by the fact that we have a front-runner in my party who has fed into language that basically justifies physically assaulting people who disagree with you.”
Trump was unapologetic and laid blame for the violence on Democrats Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, who are vying for their party’s presidential nomination.
“It is Clinton and Sanders people who disrupted my rally in Chicago -- and then they say I must talk to my people,” Trump wrote on Twitter. “Phony politicians!”
Sanders responded by calling Trump “a pathological liar.”
It is far from clear that the violence in Chicago will loosen Trump’s hold on his millions of supporters. He has survived many controversies in the nine months since he launched his run for the Republican presidential nomination.
But Kasich and Rubio, who are counting on home-state victories Tuesday to keep their candidacies viable, tried to turn the Chicago violence to their advantage on Saturday.
Campaigning in Largo, Fla., Rubio said the nation was being “ripped apart” along racial and class lines.
“I'm sad for this country,” he said. “This is supposed to be the example to the world of how a republic functions, and instead people are watching Third World images last night coming out of Chicago.”
Rubio faulted Trump for joking at a January rally with Sarah Palin in Iowa that he would pay the legal fees of any supporter who would “knock the crap out of” any protester who hurled a tomato at him.
“You saw those images last night of people getting in their face, often divided up [along] racial lines in many cases – the police officers bleeding from the head, reminiscent of images from the ‘60s,” he said. “I mean, we're going backwards here. This is a frightening, grotesque and disturbing development in American politics.”
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz was less pointed. “I am encouraging every candidate and every campaign to appeal to our better angels,” he said at a campaign stop in Missouri, according to Politico.
“I understand people who are supporting Donald Trump,” he said. “They look at him – he is a loud, angry, profane and cursing voice, and that feels like a vessel for that anger. But at the end of the day, if you’re frustrated with corruption with Washington, the answer is not to support someone like Donald Trump, who has been enmeshed in that corruption for 40 years.”
On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders suggested that Trump – who told a Las Vegas crowd last month that he wanted to punch a protester in the face – had incited the violence.
"If you play with matches, you're going to start a fire you can't control,” Clinton said at a stop Saturday in St. Louis. “That's not leadership. That's political arson. The test of leadership and citizenship is the opposite. If you see bigotry, oppose it. If you see violence, condemn it. And if you see a bully, stand up to him.”
Sanders acknowledged that he had supporters at Trump’s rally in Chicago, but denied organizing the protest.
“What caused the protests at Trump’s rally is a candidate that has promoted hatred and division against Latinos, Muslims, women and people with disabilities, and his birther attacks against the legitimacy of President Obama,” Sanders said.