Trump talks to Chuck Todd

Trump on Meet the Press discussing violence at rallies/image NBC News

Trump Spokesperson: Riots Not Such a Bad Thing

| published March 17, 2016 |

By R. Alan Clanton, Thursday Review editor

Donald Trump hasn’t shied away from his penchant for engaging in sometimes heated rhetoric while on the campaign trail during the last month. The Republican front-runner has been blamed by some observers for encouraging acts of violence at his own campaign rallies, especially when he seems to invite his own followers to engage in vigilante acts of violence against noisy protesters and hecklers.

Trump has been known to use phrases like “I’d like to punch that guy in the face” and “Somebody oughta’ clock that guy.” Trump has also raised the stakes at several rallies in recent weeks by demanding that protesters and demonstrators be arrested.

This week, he took matters a step further, and after winning a robust series of GOP primaries—including big wins in Illinois, North Carolina and Florida, where he crushed Senator Marco Rubio on Rubio’s home field—Trump has taken a somewhat dim view of the notion that he might face opposition in the form of a contested convention in Cleveland. Talk of a brokered convention has been gathering steam for weeks now, starting roughly the same day when Mitt Romney delivered a scathing anti-Trump address in Utah, and launched what had amounted to a full-scale assault on Trump’s position as GOP front-runner.

Many of Romney’s establishment allies decided to back Marco Rubio openly in Florida, and still others poured resources into Ohio on behalf of John Kasich. The Rubio gambit failed, but Kasich won a dazzling victory in the Buckeye State, albeit on his home field.

Kasich’s Ohio win was the first solid victory for the popular Buckeye State governor. As a result, Kasich gets all of Ohio’s 66 delegates, presenting a math problem for Trump, who must now win—according to the numbers experts—at least 60% of all remaining delegates. Winning 60% or more of the delegates at this point is not impossible, but it is a tall order, to say the least. With Ted Cruz and John Kasich now each openly declaring their desire remain in the fight, it may be possible for them to deny Trump the ability to reach the required 1,237 delegates needed to win nomination.

And by late Tuesday night and early Wednesday morning, talk of that brokered convention reached the fever pitch, as traditional and establishment Republicans sought to develop ground strategies to deny Trump the nomination—either through a state-by-state fight in the remainder of the primaries and caucuses, or through rule-changes in the ten-day period immediately preceding the convention—allowed, under RNC rules, which empower delegates to convene pre-gavel discussions regarding both broad and narrow specifics of the convention rules.

At this point, the Cruz and Kasich backers say, all that is needed is to deny Trump—through intense street fighting for every remaining uncommitted delegate in every state—enough to win on that first round of balloting. Indeed, if Trump arrives to Cleveland short of the 1,237 needed to win, you can bet that the anti-Trump forces will align quickly to plan for what happens after that first ballot is complete. If Trump should lose round one, the floor can then be opened up for discussion, or even to other potential nominees. Such talk often spins around a number of major names: Cruz, Trump’s closest rival but one who is generally not liked by Washington Republicans; Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, generally seen as liked by all sides within the party; or some out-of-the-box third person, such as Mitt Romney or Jeb Bush, both of whom have surrogates who have floated the idea.

But Trump is, to put it mildly, displeased with such talk. He sees it as stealing a prize he has rightly earned. Furthermore, he says such a maneuver could have grave consequences for the GOP.

On Wednesday, Trump caused a stir (as he often does) by indicating that there might be violence and mayhem if he is denied the nomination by parliamentary maneuvering or rule-changing trickery. “Bad things would result,” he intoned.

“I think you’d have riots. You’d have riots,” he suggested, “I think you would have problems like you’d never seen before.” The comment raised eyebrows, and spurred several within the GOP to complain that Trump was engaging in incendiary talk.

“I’m representing a tremendous many…many millions of people,” Trump warned.

Outbursts of violence have become commonplace at Trump events. Protesters and Trump supporters have clashed frequently in recent weeks, both inside the venues where rallies take place and outside, where police and security have been forced to contend with ever-larger crowds of pro-Trump and anti-Trump demonstrations. Fighting has broken out at several Trump events when contingents of anti-Trump hecklers begin to shout or demonstrate while Trump is attempting to speak. At least one recent event in Chicago was called off based entirely on the threat that violence would spiral out of control. When the announcement came that the rally was to be cancelled or postponed, violence erupted in the hall and spilled out onto sidewalks and streets. Reporters have complained of being roughed-up or manhandled by Trump's security detail or even Trump volunreers.

Some Republican leaders worry that Trump’s rhetoric will heat up an already angry portion of the GOP base—along with like-minded independents and Democrats—to bring what could be an ugly spectacle of violence and mayhem to Cleveland. They also fear that the GOP will be blamed for riots or violence in scores of cities if Trump ramps up his talk of insurrection against the party itself.

Trump has himself said that even if he comes up short on delegates—by 50, 100, even 200—that he believes it would be an injustice to take the nomination away from him and bestow it instead to someone selected entirely by the delegates at a convention center in Cleveland. Trump is certain, as are most political experts, that he will arrive to the convention with the most delegates; but he also seems less than sure that he can achieve the magic number needed to win on that first ballot. Thus, the veiled threat of riots, surging crowds, tear gas, thrown rocks and bottles, and police with body armor and helmets.

Adding fuel to that fire were comments from a top Trump spokesperson, Scottie Nell Hughes, who told CNN that she thought that violence might be a useful thing in the event that Trump is denied the nomination. When asked what she thought of Trump’s recent comments, she did not hesitate.

“Riots aren’t necessarily a bad thing,” Hughes, a long-time Tea Party activist said, adding that Trump supporters are “fighting the fact that our establishment Republican Party has gone corrupt and has decided to ignore the voice of the people, and ignore the process.”

CNN moderator Wolf Blitzer, taken aback by the comment, sought clarification of what Hughes had just said on live television. He asked he what she was seriously suggesting is that riots would be a productive thing in this campaign.

“It’s not riots as in a negative thing,” she explained, digging in her heels. “…like what you’ve seen in the past….it’s the fact that you have a large amount of people that will be very unhappy.”

Trump has played it fast and loose with the First Amendment, asking on some occasions that police or security arrest protesters. At a massive rally attended by about 16,000 people in Kansas City, Missouri last week, Trump questioned police over the open microphone as to the disposition of hecklers when they are removed from a venue.

“By the way, what do they do?” Trump asked, gesturing toward the protesters as they were being ushered out. “Do they arrest these people? What happens? Do they arrest them or do they just put them outside?” Trump continued with a kind of running-monologue of his thoughts and opinions regarding peaceful protests, even as the crowds surged and the shouting between pro-Trump and anti-Trump advocated continued, as a police attempted to pull people from the room.

“I hope they arrest these people,” Trump declared, “because they’re really violating all of us, okay? And I hope they’re arrested. I hope they are arrested because honestly they should be…they deserve to be arrested. And some of them are very violent [there were no reported acts of violence by the protesters in the Kansas City event Saturday night]. I’m going to ask that you arrest them. I’ll file whatever charges you want. Who the hell knows?”

“We’re going to go strongly for your [the protesters] arrest,” Trump said, pointing in the direction of the disruptions, “and I’m going to do this from now on. Let’s ruin the rest of…they’re going to ruin the rest of their lives. If they want to do this sort of thing, let them have a big arrest mark.”

But the talk of riots by Republicans is an entirely different kettle of fish, some say. Cruz has also dismissed the notion of a brokered convention, but has refrained from use of the word “riot,” preferring instead the more politically shapely term “revolt.” Cruz, however, clearly sees his path to the nomination now residing in strict interpretation of the RNC rules, which most clearly allow for negotiation and compromise and even additional candidates to arise from any first ballot stalemate.

RNC officials have made it plain for months that they would be remiss by not planning for every contingency. Though the GOP has not experienced a brokered convention since 1964, the odds seem to be rising steadily that the Grand Old Party will be a hot one this July in Cleveland. RNC officials are also attempting to tamp down talk of “riots” or “revolt.”

“I assume he is speaking figuratively,” Sean Spicer, a top RNC spokesman said on Wednesday in reference to Trump’s predictions of riots, “if we go into a convention, whoever gets 1,237 delegates becomes the nominee. It’s plain, and simple.”

But Spicer made it even plainer that the “open” convention scenario is one which the party regards as more likely than at any time in recent decades.

“I think Republicans will have a very orderly process,” Spicer said, “We’ll vote in the open. The delegates that are elected by Republican voters will go to Cleveland. If we get to a point where there needs to be more than one ballot, we’ll do it in a very orderly and transparent way.”

Related Thursday Review articles:

Mega Tuesday Nudges Clinton, Trump Closer to Nominations; R. Alan Clanton; Thursday Review; March 16, 2016.

Trump Calls for Arrests of Protesters and Hecklers; Keith H. Roberts; Thursday Review; March 13, 2016.