I have a simple message for both Donald Trump and the organized protesters who have been showing up at his events to disrupt them – cease and desist, now.
In so many ways, the 2016 presidential nominating process has been unusual from the start. Conventional wisdom has been turned on its head, and pollsters and political analysts have had the embarrassing task of repeatedly explaining why their predictions have been so far from right. Years from now, historians and political scientists will publish books and dissertations about all of this election cycle’s anomalies.
One of the more unfortunate and noteworthy aspects of this election is its sheer ugliness, especially on the Republican side. Every time we think the nominating process could not possibly get any uglier, it somehow does.
When Marco Rubio stood before a crowd at a rally in Dallas, Texas, and mockingly read Donald Trump’s Twitter feed, I thought we had reached the nadir of civility. At numerous points during the rally, Sen. Rubio mercilessly ridiculed Trump: “[Trump] wanted a full-length mirror, maybe to make sure his pants weren’t wet. I don’t know.” But that wasn’t all. Sen. Rubio went on to declare shortly thereafter that Mr. Trump had short fingers, and inferred with a knowing wink to a clued-in audience that perhaps that wasn’t the only Trump body part that was small – which, of course, led to Trump’s rejoinder at the next debate “guaranteeing” that there was “no problem.” The entire episode was childish, uncomfortable to watch, and yes, extremely “unpresidential.”
Sadly, it turns out we were nowhere near bottom. As base as that exchange was, things have actually gotten worse, and we are now witnessing what I can only hope is the rock bottom of the GOP nominating process – violence and unrest surrounding Donald Trump’s events.
At one rally, Trump’s campaign manager grabbed a female reporter for Breitbart News, “nearly bringing her down to the ground,” (in the words of an eyewitness) and leaving visible bruises on her arm. Trump’s campaign denied the episode had ever happened. A day later, at a rally in North Carolina, an African-American protester in the custody of law enforcement was sucker-punched by a 78-year-old Trump supporter as he was being led out of the arena. A day later, Trump had to cancel a planned rally in Chicago because hundreds of organized protesters had plotted to take over his rally and deny him the opportunity to speak – which, of course, led to more violence.
This is not how we do things in America.
To the protesters, I say, knock it off. You may not like Donald Trump, but he has every right to speak to his supporters as he campaigns for the highest office in the land. It’s called the First Amendment, and it applies to him as much as it does to you. Your plans to provoke confrontation are beneath the great traditions of civil disobedience – Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., advocated and practiced nonviolent protest, to ensure themselves the moral high ground. Learn from the past, for goodness’ sake.
And to Donald Trump, I say the same thing – knock it off. You do yourself and your campaign no good when you promise to pay the legal fees of any supporter who engages in violence against a protester, and speak warmly of the “old days,” when, apparently, a protester would be beaten with impunity as he was removed from a political gathering. As a man who aspires to leadership, you have a responsibility to call us to the higher angels of our nature, not the lower.
Here’s the thing: I’ve been in Trump’s shoes. I remember as if it were yesterday what it was like on the day Obamacare was jammed through the House. There were 50,000 Tea Party protesters on the West Lawn of the Capitol, angered beyond belief at what had just happened inside the chamber they revered as “The People’s House.” Tensions were heightened when word spread that Democrats were falsely claiming that God-fearing Patriots who had traveled long hours at their own expense to protest the passage of Obamacare were “racists” who had “spit” on passing Democrat Congressmen. The Capitol Police turned to me, as a leader of the Tea Party movement, to take control of the situation.
It would have been easy to implore my colleagues to rush the barricades, knock over Capitol Police, and storm the House chamber. Instead, I urged them to remain calm, to keep their anger in check, to store up that energy to be converted later into political action that ended up winning the biggest wave election in decades, and flipped the House from Democratic to Republican control.
This is America. We settle our differences with ballots, not bullets. Anyone who doesn’t understand that and behave appropriately isn’t worthy of anyone’s support.