When the Donald Trump campaign rented the University of Illinois at Chicago Pavilion for a rally Friday night, it was planting Trump in hostile territory, politically speaking.
UIC is located in the heart of lefty Democratic Chicago. Its student population is a majority-minority mix of Hispanics, Asians and African Americans — a lot of the folks Trump regulary insults, some of whom he would like to deport. And the school welcomes undocumented students.
Trump, the Republican frontrunner, ended up cancelling the rally when skirmishes broke out between his supporters and protesters.
This latest twist to an already-chaotic primary season raises two questions, one for Trump, the other for Bernie Sanders.
It’s clear that protests now will be a part of the theater of Trump rallies. So will this only swell the support Trump has?
And will Trump blaming Sanders for igniting the skirmishes boost turnout for Sanders and hurt Hillary Clinton?
We’ll know more by Tuesday night.
With Illinois and four other states voting Tuesday, the spotlight Saturday once again was on Trump — who blamed the melee mainly on Sanders, and then threw in Hillary Clinton in a tweet. By evening, appearing in Kansas City, Mo., Trump was taunting protesters at a rally there, saying, “Were you put in here by Bernie?”
Sanders said he had nothing to do with inciting the protests at a Chicago news conference, later adding that Trump was a “pathological liar.”
“The issue now is that Donald Trump has got to be loud and clear and tell his supporters that violence at rallies is not what America is about and to end it,” Sanders said.
Clinton, appearing in St. Louis, said Trump’s own scorched comments led to the melees.
“You play with matches, you’re going to start a fire you can’t control,” the Democratic hopeful said. “That’s not leadership. That’s political arson.”
On the GOP side, John Kasich said Trump has created a “toxic environment.” Marco Rubio said, “We all need to take a step back.” Ted Cruz blamed Trump for “an environment that only encourages this sort of nasty discourse.”
On Sunday, Trump returns to Illinois, touching down for an event in Bloomington at an airport, the Synergy Flight Center.
What is accurate to say about the would-be Trump rally:
It was not an official UIC event.
The Trump campaign only rented the hall. The contract was signed on March 10 by Trump campaign manager Corey Lewondowski. The campaign agreed to pay $10,000 in rent, plus $12,343 for staffing and building costs, an estimated $25,000 for the UIC police and $2,000 for an ambulance, plus any other costs.
A Sanders-allied group helped organize the protest.
Anyone could have registered to get a ticket.
And it seemed a pretty obvious idea to protest inside the hall as well as outside.
It’s been well known that protests were increasing at Trump rallies and that Trump was pushing back hard.
He was asked about it at the March 10 Republican debate in Miami by CNN’s Jake Tapper: “Do you believe that you’ve done anything to create a tone where this kind of violence would be encouraged?”
Tapper read back to Trump a litany of his quotes, including on Feb. 1 Trump’s suggestion that someone should “knock the crap out of” a protester.
Trump’s answer: “We have some protesters who are bad dudes. They have done bad things.”
UIC students started a petition drive on MoveOn.org asking UIC “not to be a host to hate.” Once that picked up steam, the group helped organize a protest outside the event.
Getting inside was the next logical step. It wasn’t hard. The Trump campaign registers people to attend its rallies on Eventbrite.com and asks only for routine information — name, address and cell number.
While Sanders does not have a super PAC helping him, there are other Democratic allied groups who are organizing on his behalf, including the progressive MoveOn.org, which has endorsed Sanders.
Ilya Sheyman, the executive director of MoveOn.org — who in 2012 ran for Congress from the north suburban 10th Congressional District, losing his Democratic primary bid — said, “We helped student leaders by printing signs and recruiting MoveOn members to attend the student-led protest.
“But let’s be clear about one thing: The protest Friday night was a direct result of the violence that has occurred at Trump rallies and that has been repeatedly encouraged by Trump himself from the stage. There is only one person to blame for the chaotic and often violent nature of Trump rallies: Donald J. Trump.”
In Kansas City on Saturday night, Trump taunted back: “Move-On-Dot-Org — third-rate organization. They finally think they have some power.”
Trump bragged at that speech that “we had 25,000 people” at the Chicago event that was cancelled.
The Pavilion holds only about 9,000. The contract between UIC and the Trump campaign said the expected attendance was 8,000.
So far, Trump has been impervious to fact-checking — and to any suggestions he soften his racially tinged rhetoric.
Both Sanders and Trump supporters can be energized by these protests.
The issue is far more immediate for Trump, who could all but clinch the nomination on Tuesday if he wins Florida and Ohio.
There were reports Saturday that both Kasich and Rubio would not commit to backing Trump if he ends up the nominee.
What’s key now is if more Republicans make that call.