It is ludicrous to argue that, because the hard Left is primarily responsible for the outbreak of chaos and violence that caused Donald Trump’s Chicago rally to be canceled last night, it is wrong to condemn the thuggery Trump often encourages at his appearances.
Trump has encouraged physical battery at his campaign events, even telling supporters he’d pay their legal fees if they get arrested for assaulting dissenters. (See, e.g., Iowa event: ”So if you see somebody getting ready to throw a tomato, knock the crap out of ‘em, would you? Seriously. Okay? Just knock the hell — I promise you, I will pay for the legal fees. I promise. I promise”; see also Las Vegas event: regarding an unruly protester removed by security, Trump tells crowd, “I’d like to punch him in the face. He’s smiling, having a good time.”) Trump has continued to fan these flames even after it has become obvious that some of his supporters are acting on the invitation to resort to violence. Incitement to violence is a crime; incitement to violence at a large rally is incitement to riot — a crime that can get people badly injured or even killed.
And it’s about more than incitement. As David has been chronicling, Trump’s top campaign guy, Corey Lewandowski, has been credibly accused of manhandling Breitbart reporter Michelle Fields. In case you haven’t noticed, one of the main tactics that has transformed Turkey, before our very eyes, from a reasonably democratic society into an authoritarian Islamist state is Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s green-light to his underlings to intimidate, assault, shut down, imprison, and trump up prosecutions against members of the press. Trump is not a conservative, so it is perhaps unknown to him that media hostility is something conservatives in a free society learn to deal with — even to become more effective communicators because of. What should really frighten people is that Breitbart is Trump-friendly media. It is unlikely that, at the time of the alleged assault, Mr. Lewandowski even knew for whom Ms. Fields worked … but it is highly likely that he knew she was a reporter. (And even if he didn’t, campaign officials don’t get to rough up non-media rally attendees, either.)
Everybody knows the Left is conducting a war on speech that it does not want to hear, much less compete with. But that is not license for Trump supporters to engage in the same behavior on the rationale that it is a taste of the Left’s own medicine, and in the expectation that anyone who objects can safely be smeared as a sympathizer of Black Lives Matter, Islamist agitators, Occupy Wall Street, and other anti-free-speech extortionists.
It is slanderous to claim, as Trump hacks have, that Ted Cruz sided with the hard Left protesters. Cruz — whom I support for the GOP nomination — clearly said, “as violence broke out, [Trump's] rally was canceled all together. Now, the responsibility for that lies with protesters who took violence into their own hands.” That’s true and it was important to say it.
The next thing Cruz said was also exactly right:
[I]n any campaign responsibility starts at the top. Any candidate who is responsible for the culture of the campaign. And when you have a campaign that disrespects the voters, when you have a campaign that affirmatively encourages violence, when you have a campaign that is facing allegations of physical violence against members of the press, you create an environment that only encourages this sort of nasty discourse.
That is not an indictment of Donald Trump for what lawless protesters did in Chicago. It is an indictment of Trump for encouraging rogue behavior, which inevitably begets more rogue behavior and perversely enables thugs to portray their thuggery as justifiable retaliation.
Conservatives are champions of vigorous debate within the bounds of civil discourse. As conservative commentators who have been threatened, shouted down, censored, banned from speaking, and full-time demagogued will tell you, the point is not just to get one’s message across; it is the principle that the message is entitled to be heard even if it is unpopular. That is why we do not stoop to thug tactics or urge that the Left — with its legacy of laundering one-time terrorists into “social justice” activists — deserves an eye-for-an-eye. The law of the jungle is not the rule of law that we advocate. Civil society has to be civil society.
It is easy to forget in the Obama era that after a president is elected, he (or she) becomes president of the whole country, not just the people who voted for him or the even narrower constituencies that worked for his election. We have to be able to debate with intensity but shake hands afterwards in recognition of what unites us. A candidate who has us shaking fists is unfit.