In recent days, Donald Trump supporters have been demonized as some sort of racist mob spun up by Trump's racially tinged rhetoric. Former Environmental Protection Agency head and New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman declared: “If you were told that Mexicans are rapists and criminals … and you are walking down the street and see them in your community, people are going to do things.”
Except for one problem: Trump supporters are not targeting Mexicans walking down the street with violence. They are not even showing up and disrupting Bernie Sanders when he spews socialist claptrap.
The clashes we have seen so far have almost exclusively been at Trump events.
Why is that? Because organized groups of left-wing agitators intentionally come to Trump rallies to provoke his supporters. According to the New York Times, the protesters “fling themselves to the ground, forcing law enforcement officers – often outmanned and overwhelmed – to drag them away. They also shout and curse, making obscene gestures.” They should not be surprised when they get a reaction. Walk into a blue-collar bar and start taunting people that way, and you are likely to leave without some of your teeth.
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The fact is, if the protesters were holding peaceful protests outside his venues, there would be no violence.
What we are witnessing is the latest example of the American left’s totalitarian instinct to shut down speech that it finds abhorrent. Trump is not the only speaker to be driven off a college campus in recent years. In 2013, student protesters forced Ben Carson to cancel his planned commencement speech at Johns Hopkins University. In 2014, student activists forced Brandeis University to cancel a commencement-day speech by author and activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Also in 2014, protesters forced former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice to cancel her commencement speech at Rutgers University, declaring that “war criminals shouldn’t be honored” by the school.
What do these speakers all have in common? They are black and conservative. If the Trump protests were about race, then why are left-wing activists equally insistent on stopping black speakers with views they don’t like? Rice didn’t call for a Muslim ban, but she is just as unacceptable to the radical left as Trump.
This is not to suggest that Trump is blameless in the ugliness that is unfolding. Far from it.
A responsible leader tries to calm a volatile situation. Trump has been doing the opposite for months – egging on his supporters to clash with the protesters. In August, Trump warned that if protesters tried to disrupt his rallies, “I don’t know if I’ll do the fighting myself, or if other people will.” In November, he said a protester who disrupted one of his events “should have been roughed up,” and in February, he declared of another, “I'd like to punch him in the face.” Also in February, he told a rally, “If you see somebody getting ready to throw a tomato, knock the crap out of them. … I promise you, I will pay for the legal fees.”
That is highly irresponsible. But Trump understands that it is also why his supporters love him. Unlike Sen. Bernie Sanders – who let Black Lives Matter protesters take away his microphone – Trump does not back down when people try to stop him from speaking. His supporters see a man who stands up for himself and believe he won’t let the United States get pushed around either.
The vast majority of his supporters are not violent or bigots. One reporter covering his campaign described them as “almost unfailingly courteous.” They are ordinary people who see their jobs, their country, their ability to earn a fair wage and support their families slipping away – and feel abandoned by their party’s establishment figures. They are desperate for a savior and think they have found one in Trump. When they hear Republican presidential candidates and pundits blame them for the violence, they are alienated even more.
Yes, Trump’s call for a Muslim ban, his spewing of conspiracies theories about 9/11 and Iraq, his embrace of Russian President Vladimir Putin and Middle East dictators, and his calls for protesters to be “roughed up” are all repulsive. But for many Americans, the left’s smash-mouth tactics are repulsive as well.
Trump understands this, which is why he is milking the protests to his advantage. He is using them to rally blue-collar America by saying we’re not going to take this anymore – we are not going to bow to the Alinskyite tactics of the radical left.
And the protesters are playing right into his hands.
Marc Thiessen writes for The Washington Post on foreign and domestic policy. He is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and the former chief speechwriter for President George W. Bush. Twitter: @marcthiessen