- The Washington Times - Monday, March 14, 2016

The White House blasted Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump on Monday for “inflaming tensions” among Americans, in the wake of fistfights and other violence at Trump campaign rallies.

“One of the reasons there’s so much energy at these events is you have an aspiring political leader inflaming tensions and appealing to people’s darker impulses and trying to capitalize on their anxieties to provide energy for his campaign,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said of Mr. Trump.

Mr. Trump, who has blamed the campaign of Democratic candidate Bernard Sanders for sending protesters to disrupt his rallies, downplayed the controversy Monday. He said his campaign events are actually “lovefests.”

He made the remark after a pair of protesters disrupted a campaign event in North Carolina, with one of them standing on a chair and unfurling a banner that read: “Turn away from hate.”

Such demonstrations have become routine at Trump events.

“Because of that, people say, ‘Well, is there violence?’ There is no violence. There’s a lovefest. These are lovefests,” Mr. Trump said after the protesters were led out.

Mr. Trump, who was seated on stage beside New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, one of his main supporters, remained quiet as security officials removed the protesters. It was a more measured response from Mr. Trump, who in the past has urged the ejection of protesters by demanding, “Get ‘em out.”

He was accused of inspiring violence after an elderly Trump supporter struck a young black man protesting at a rally Wednesday in Fayetteville, North Carolina. Mr. Trump canceled a rally Friday in Chicago amid protests by students and liberal activists.

The billionaire businessman and realty TV star said the news media were smearing him.

“They’re saying, ‘Oh, but there is such violence.’ There is no violence. Do you know how many people have been hurt? I think like basically none, other than I guess maybe somebody got hit once. But there is no violence,” he said. “You know, in Chicago, we canceled because I didn’t want to see it.”

The White House spokesman criticized Republican Party leaders who “wring their hands about Mr. Trump’s behavior but pledge fealty to his campaign.”

“For the life of me, I just don’t understand how they do that,” Mr. Earnest said. “At some point, somebody in the Republican Party is going to have to step up and show some leadership.”

At a Democratic fundraiser in Dallas on Saturday, Mr. Obama criticized Republican candidates engaging in “insults and schoolyard taunts” and inciting “violence against other Americans, or excluding them.”

“We’re a better country than that,” the president said.

Asked whether Mr. Obama is worried about Mr. Trump’s temperament to be commander in chief, Mr. Earnest reiterated that the president doesn’t believe the real estate mogul will win the presidency.

“I don’t think he loses a lot of sleep over that prospect,” Mr. Earnest said.

But Mr. Obama and his aides increasingly are aiming more criticism at Mr. Trump and pointing out distinctions between the Republican’s campaign and Mr. Obama’s run for the White House in 2008.

“Even before he was running for president in 2004, the first time that Mr. Obama sort of burst into public consciousness was giving a speech highlighting how the diversity of America was our strength, but yet how much we had in common,” Mr. Earnest said. “He took it upon himself to try to unite the country and to try to inspire people to reach across party lines, to disagree without being disagreeable. And that has been the president’s message dating all the way back to 2004.”

At the fundraiser in Dallas, the president boasted that his campaign rallies in 2008 attracted even more people than Mr. Trump has pulled in this year.

“In 2008, we had rallies with 50,000, 80,000, 100,000 people,” Mr. Obama said. “I’m not bragging, I’m just saying we had some big rallies.”

He added, “The best leaders, the leaders who are worthy of our votes, remind us that even in a country as big and diverse and inclusive as ours, what we’ve got in common is far more important than what divides any of us.”

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