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Capitol Journal: If Trump doesn’t win the nomination, there might be rejoicing -- not riots -- in the streets

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks in Pittsburgh.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks in Pittsburgh.

(Keith Srakocic / AP)

One of the nuttiest notions being mouthed is that if Donald Trump goes to the Republican convention with the most delegates but doesn’t win the nomination, there’ll be street riots.

You know, riots like at the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago.

Where do we begin with such warped thinking?

There are essentially two conclusions:

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First, there’s a lot of delusion out there. Who in their right mind would risk being tear-gassed and billy clubbed because some billionaire blowhard who spews bigotry was denied the presidential nomination by the Party of Lincoln? Hardly anyone.

Or, there are a lot of unstable Republicans headed to Cleveland who have truly lost their minds and senses of priority. A very bad sign for the nation.

The first scenario makes the most sense.

The vast majority of Republican voters — and Trump supporters — are older than 50 and long past their rioting prime. Some might pout, or even carry a protest sign and refuse to vote in November, but they’re not going to tangle with SWAT teams.

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More likely is that people would riot if Trump did become the GOP standard-bearer.

Leftist activists have been talking about demonstrating outside the convention hall. That conceivably could turn violent, especially if the Cleveland Police Department lived up to its reputation for head-knocking.

Trump started the riot talk last month.

Interviewed by CNN, the GOP front-runner said he expected to capture enough delegates in primaries and caucuses to clinch the nomination before the convention. But if he fell short of the 1,237 needed, “and we’re at 1,100 and somebody else is at 500 … I don’t think you can say that we don’t get it automatically.”

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“I think you’d have riots,” he continued. “I wouldn’t lead it, but I think bad things would happen.”

The odds are increasing that Trump will need to fight it out in the convention hall. Some big states — including New York and California — haven’t voted yet. But at last count, Trump had 743 delegates and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz had 532. Ohio Gov. John Kasich trailed far back with 143.

Trump ally Roger Stone, a veteran Republican strategist, recently warned of “Days of Rage” in Cleveland if the party tries to “steal” the nomination from the front-runner. This apparently was a reference to Weatherman-organized vandalism and clashes with Chicago police in 1969.

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Stone since has denied he was calling for violence. He merely was “urging an intense dialogue” with delegates who were elected to support Trump, but “the Cruz forces seek to chisel” them away, Stone wrote. “The fix is in.”

Conservative commentator Glenn Beck, a Cruz supporter, said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday that if neither Trump nor Cruz is anointed by the convention — and delegates instead choose some establishment white knight — “it would be the end of the GOP. I don’t think it’s going to happen…. People would feel very betrayed.”

But “Days of Rage?”

“That’s really not a good thing,” Beck said. “I don’t want to play into the anger and the hatred and vitriol.”

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“Days of Rage” may be open to interpretation. But 1968-style Chicago rioting is not.

Even some respected talking heads have been warning about that, including veteran TV journalist Cokie Roberts.

“Look at the 1968 convention,” Roberts said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week With George Stephanopoulos.”

“We had riots. And what happened … is [Sen. Eugene] McCarthy had the most votes going into that convention. And a coalition of McCarthy and [George] McGovern … clearly had the will of the people…. Hubert Humphrey gets the nomination. And there were riots in the streets…. Very similar.”

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Well, not really.

But Republican strategist Alex Castellanos had an excellent response: “Riot, though, is Republicans giving up their country club memberships. We don’t … work that way.”

Let’s painfully remember what those 1968 riots were about: certainly not who might win the Democratic nomination. They were about the life-and-death issue of the increasingly unpopular Vietnam War.

The convention was barely a side issue, although the party bosses — including Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley — fueled the street fires by trampling over antiwar delegations, including California’s. The party establishment, controlled by President Johnson’s loyalists, rammed through a platform plank calling for continued strong commitment to the war.

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The country was fracturing. Students — then vulnerable to the draft — were rioting everywhere. Ultimately more than 58,000 U.S. soldiers were killed in the war.

The California delegation’s candidate had been Sen. Robert F. Kennedy before he was assassinated in Los Angeles minutes after claiming victory in the state’s pivotal primary. In Chicago, the delegation was discombobulated and demoralized, especially after Vice President Humphrey — who had never entered a primary — was awarded the nomination.

Outside on streets and in parks, 12,000 cops, 15,000 military personnel, 1,000 federal agents and countless thousands of demonstrators clashed nightly. A national commission later called it a “police riot.”

There just doesn’t seem to be any relevance between that backdrop and today.

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Trump keeps claiming the convention is being “rigged” against him. Boohoo.

Learn the rules of political engagement. Start by getting your own kids registered to vote. Stop being outmaneuvered on delegates. Cease acting like a bully inciting violence.

Try to look a little presidential.

And, by the way, America’s still great. Don’t jeopardize it.

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Rather than rioting if Trump isn’t nominated, there’s more likely to be rejoicing in the streets.

george.skelton@latimes.com

Follow @LATimesSkelton on Twitter

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