Two days after a 78-year-old man sucker-punched a protester at one of Donald Trump’s rallies, the Republican front-runner appeared to defend such assaults as “very, very appropriate” and the sort of thing “we need a little bit more of.”
Asked today if he was “playing a character” when he said he wanted to “punch a protester in the face” at a Las Vegas rally last month, Trump argued that it’s the protesters at his rallies who are truly violent.
“We’ve had a couple that were really violent. And the particular one when I said, [I’d] like to bang him. That was — a very vicious — you know, he is a guy who was swinging very loud and then started swinging at the audience. And you know what? The audience swung back. And I thought it was very, very appropriate. He was swinging, he was hitting people and the audience hit back. And that’s what we need a little bit more of. Now, I’m not talking about just a protester. This was a guy who was — should not have been allowed to do what he did. And frankly, if you want to know the truth, the police were very, very restrained. The police have been amazing. But the police were very, very restrained.”
There has not been a single documented case of protesters initiating violence against Trump supporters, according to Time. And at the Las Vegas rally that Trump cites, multiple security personnel told Politico that the protester threw no punches and that Trump was “over-exaggerating.”
At the GOP debate in Miami Thursday night, CNN’s Jake Tapper asked Trump if he believed that he had “done anything to create a tone” that encouraged violence at his rallies.
“I hope not. I truly hope not,” the GOP front-runner said, before creating a tone that encouraged violence at his rallies. “We have some protesters who are bad dudes, they have done bad things. They are swinging, they are really dangerous … And if they’ve got to be taken out, to be honest, I mean, we have to run something.”
Trump’s praise of “swinging back” stands in stark contrast with the newfound civility with which he’s treated his rivals in recent days. The Donald’s performance in the last GOP debate was widely interpreted as a self-conscious pivot toward a general-election audience. The former reality star chose not to address the other candidates by disparaging nicknames, and delivered his message of nationalistic grievance in a calm, steady voice. The mogul even resisted the temptation to obliquely reference the size of his penis.
But, apparently, Trump thinks full-throated praise of mob violence is not out of step with a pivot to the center.
This post has been updated throughout.