Anti-Trump violence is widely condemned. Will backlash help his candidacy?
The violent assault on Donald Trump supporters in San Jose led to bipartisan condemnation Friday and widespread agreement that protesters crossed a line, possibly provoking a backlash that could boost the presidential hopeful.
“I know the depths of emotions that have come out,” said Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, who has campaigned across the country for Hillary Clinton, the Democratic front-runner. “But somebody who thinks they’re being helpful by throwing an egg – I would say that’s a tactical mistake.”
Hector Barajas, a Republican strategist who had expressed consternation about the presumptive GOP nominee and his inflammatory statements about Mexican immigrants, said he would vote for Trump in Tuesday’s primary and predicted others less than enamored with the Manhattan businessman would do so as well.
It is one thing to oppose Trump and “quite another to start throwing eggs, to start throwing punches and act in a thuggish way,” Barajas said. “I think you get a lot of folks who are going to look at this.... and they might not have been supportive of Trump or on the fence, but now say, ‘I’m going to vote for him; it’s needed to put an end to this ugliness.’”
Somebody who thinks they’re being helpful by throwing an egg – I would say that’s a tactical mistake.
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti
Dozens of fights broke out Thursday night at the conclusion of Trump’s Silicon Valley appearance.
Demonstrators jumped on cars, stole the candidate’s trademark “Make America great again” ball cap from Trump supporters and set them on fire, and clashed with police in riot gear. Some protesters waved Mexican flags as rallygoers in Trump regalia shouted, “Go back to Mexico!”
One Trump fan was hit with an egg and others were chased and harassed, scenes that blazed across television newscasts and social media.
At least four people were arrested and a police officer was slightly injured after being hit with a metal object.
“We had an amazing packed crowd.… It was a lovefest inside; no problems whatsoever,” Trump told supporters at a scorching outdoor rally Friday afternoon in Redding. “Then they walk out and they get accosted by a bunch of thugs burning the American flag … and you know what they are, they’re thugs.”
Trump said the protests broke out despite his efforts to prevent such violence.
“When we have a protester inside, which isn’t even very often, I say, ‘Be very gentle. Please don’t hurt him,’” he said, his voice dripping with faux sympathy. “’If he punches you in the face, smile as your nose is pouring blood out of it. Be very, very nice.’”
Protests have become a staple of Trump rallies from coast to coast and something he has touted as part of the attraction.
The overwhelming majority have been peaceful, if rowdy, though the exceptions have drawn massive news coverage and fed the animosity between Trump and his critics, each side accusing the other of incitement.
The response Friday settled into that familiar pattern.
San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo, a Democrat and Clinton backer, blamed Trump for inciting violence that local police are then forced to handle. “At some point, Donald Trump needs to take responsibility for the irresponsibility of his campaign,” Liccardo told the Associated Press.
Republicans were quick to criticize Clinton and accuse her of condoning violence — the same charge that was leveled at Trump after some of his supporters assaulted protesters in North Carolina and Arizona.
“Left wing protestors at @realDonaldTrump rally burn American flag, destroy public properly & engage in violence: silence fr @HillaryClinton,” Sean Spicer, the Republican National Committee’s chief spokesman, said on Twitter.
However, John Podesta, Clinton’s campaign manager, was quick to condemn the violence in a Tweet that included video of a Trump supporter being beaten. “Violence against supporters of any candidate has no place in this election,” he wrote.
Brian Fallon, a Clinton campaign spokesman, reiterated the point Friday morning on MSNBC, saying, “We absolutely reject and condemn the violence that we saw in California last night.”
Later, in a CNN interview, Clinton condemned “all violence in our political arena.”
But she largely blamed Trump for, as she put, creating an “an environment in which it seemed to be acceptable for someone running for president to be inciting violence.”
“Now we’re seeing people who are against him responding in kind,” Clinton said. “It should all stop; it is not acceptable.”
The protest in San Jose was coordinated by a consortium of labor, pro-immigrant and other community groups. But it also attracted unaffiliated protesters, including self-identified anarchists.
“It’s very disappointing that a few people in that crowd decided to stoop to violence,” said Ben Field, who leads the South Bay Labor Council, which represents dozens of unions in the Silicon Valley. His organization helped organize a protest before the rally about a block away from the convention center.
“It taints the otherwise positive message we were trying to send,” he said. “It is disappointing that instead of talking about why Trump’s message is divisive and hateful, we’re talking about disruptions by a small number of protesters.”
Harmeet K. Dhillon, vice chairwoman of the California Republican Party, led the Pledge of Allegiance at the event at the San Jose Convention Center and described a frightful scene afterward.
“People were driving muscle cars, driving slowly, flying the Mexican flag, spoiling for a fight,” said Dhillon, who was caught between protesters and police as she left the rally and sought safety inside a nearby hotel restaurant.
She predicted the clashes would drive people into Trump’s camp and said the violence backed up some of the candidate’s race-tinged rhetoric. “Trump made his initial comments about Mexico not sending their best people. Well, that’s what I saw on TV last night,” Dhillon said.
Critics of Trump, while making a point of condemning the violence, said it was nevertheless understandable.
“I really lay all the responsibility on Donald Trump,” said Angelica Salas, head of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights in Los Angeles. “He’s instigating. He’s creating a situation where individuals are brought to anger and feel like they need to push back, and push back hard.”
“Usually as a leader you try to deescalate, not escalate,” said Salas, who helped organize one of the first large protests against Trump last summer in Beverly Hills. “You basically model a behavior. He’s modeling a behavior that is aggressive.”
Times staffs writers Mark Z. Barabak in San Francisco and Noah Bierman in Washington contributed to this report.
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