Trump: `You knew damn well I was a snake before you took me in.”

Good day Austin:

Screen Shot 2016-03-12 at 10.02.51 PM

The 2016 Republican presidential campaign continues to defy imagination. The script is simply too outlandish to be credible. I am not complaining. Just noting.

The campaign vaulted into a new, perilous orbit Friday with the Trump rally-cum-melee in Chicago, which seemed like a dress rehearsal for a revival of Chicago 1968 in Cleveland 2016. As I recall, Lake Cuyahoga is, or was, flammable.

What was missing from the Chicago rally was Trump himself, because he canceled the show when, he said, it became apparent that a considerable portion of the huge crowd in Chicago were people who had come to protest his candidacy, not to celebrate it, and that it had the makings of a very bad scene.

But, Trump being Trump, he phoned in to MSNBC  to chime in on Chris Matthews’ dumbstruck, literally blow-by-blow account of the menacing post-rally street scene. (Trump called the other cable networks as well, but I was fixated on MSBNC”s obsessive coverage.)

And so we had the spectacle of Trump – even before his election with, it seems, Big Brother’s ability to be the ubiquitous, inescapable voice in  our national head – providing color commentary on a scene very much of his own making, explaining to Matthews how much credit he – Trump – was getting for the prudence of his decision to cancel the rally, and, this being MSNBC, offering something like a sympathetic take on some of the protesters, suggesting, for example, that some black folks angry with him might be angry because of high unemployment in their community, and, thus, might be brothers-in-despair with his angry flock.

But, after a good night’s sleep, Trump thought better of that note of conciliation.

Or perhaps the man charging the stage at his first appearance Saturday in Dayton, leading to a dramatic Secret Service response, knocked him into a different frame of mind.

Or maybe, even more probably, this was simply, all in the script.

I have thought for some time that the best way to view Trump and his candidacy is through the lens of his membership in the WWE Hall of Fame.

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He is the kayfabe candidate. (From Wikipedia: In professional wrestling, kayfabe /ˈkeɪfeɪb/ is the portrayal of staged events within the industry as “real” or “true,” specifically the portrayal of competition, rivalries, and relationships between participants as being genuine and not of a staged or pre-determined nature.)

And Chicago 2016 was a kayfabe Chicago 1968.

Trump, guided by his gut and his showman’s touch, has, every step of the way, made bold plays of his most outrageous rhetoric and actions when he needs them, to great effect. Running behind John Kasich in Ohio, and not all that far ahead of Cruz and Kasich in Illinois, it appears to me he staged the battle of Chicago to give his campaign a timely jolt.

“It was all a made for TV protest,” said Joe Scarborough on Morning joe this morning.

As Scarborough wrote in the Washington Post today:

Friday’s freak show was as prepackaged as an rerun of “Celebrity Apprentice.” The only difference was that Donald Trump delivered his lines on the phone from a hotel room in the Windy City instead of on the set of his made-for-TV boardroom.

It was all a scam.

Has anyone noticed that Trump’s campaign now regularly stages media events designed to eclipse any negative coverage that predictably follows Republican debates?

The February 25th debate in Houston where Marco Rubio delivered the campaign’s most withering critique of Trump was followed the next morning with Chris Christie’s headline-grabbing endorsement. That Friday press conference consumed all political coverage throughout the weekend and limited any fallout from the Fox debate to a hardy band of Trump deniers on Twitter.

Then last Thursday, Rubio delivered the debate performance of his life in Miami. But with Florida and Ohio five days away, the Trump campaign took no chances. They leaked the news of Ben Carson’s coming endorsement before the debate even began and held another Friday morning press conference to showcase it. But Carson was just the warm-up act.

When news broke early Friday night that the Chicago rally had been cancelled because of safety fears, you didn’t need to be a programming genius to predict what would be jamming America’s airwaves for the rest of the night. And for the next four hours, the candidate who is promising to weaken libel laws spoke on cable news channels about how his First Amendment rights were being violated. He was doing all of this while reaching a far larger audience than he could have ever done while actually speaking at a rally.

As has been the case throughout the entire 2016 cycle, Trump thrives on the political chaos that he helps creates. If it is true that opportunity and chaos are the same word in Mandarin, Trump should stamp that word on a poster and sell it at his next scheduled event. For the Manhattan billionaire, manufactured chaos is just as profitable for his brand as Paris Hilton’s sex tape was for hers.

 But now important voices warn us that America is on the brink of chaos despite the fact that Friday’s spectacle in Chicago was more reality show than political revolt.The rally was cancelled, we were told, because law enforcement officials consulted with the campaign and concluded that scrubbing the event was in the best interest of public safety. One problem: The Chicago Police Department said that never actually happened.

And if you find that curious, perhaps you will find it even more interesting that a political campaign whose security has been so stifling as to draw angry comparisons to fascist regimes would plan a key rally for Trump in the middle of a racially diverse urban campus. The fact that that campus sits in the middle of a city that is so Democratic that it has not elected a Republican mayor since before Franklin Roosevelt was sworn in as president makes the venue’s selection even more bizarre.

Following the rally’s cancellation, Trump supporters expressed surprise at the number of protesters that were filling the lines and streaming into the event on a campus that is 25 percent Hispanic, 25 percent Asian and 8 percent black. William Daley, the son of former Chicago mayor Richard J. Daley, did not share that surprise. “Whoever picked that location knew what they were doing as far as poking that sleeping dog there,” Daley suggested to the New York Times that the venue was staged for the purpose of provoking protests that would energize Trump’s own supporters.

From Daley in the New York Times:

William M. Daley, a scion of the storied Daley political clan of Illinois, said he was not surprised that protests against Donald J. Trump before his Chicago rally got so out of hand that Mr. Trump canceled it before even taking the stage.

And Mr. Daley wondered why the venue was selected in the first place.

Mr. Daley, a former chief of staff to President Obama and a son of the late Richard J. Daley, the longtime mayor of Chicago, pointed out in an interview on Saturday that the University of Illinois at Chicago, where the rally was to be held, has one of the most diverse student bodies of any university in the country.

It has 17,000 undergraduate students, many of whom come from low-income families. Roughly a quarter are Hispanic, 8 percent are black and 25 percent are Asian. Mr. Daley’s father, who was mayor during the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago that was marred by violence, had championed the creation of the campus.

Mr. Daley wondered aloud whether the Trump campaign had picked the site to provoke a reaction. “Whoever picked that location knew what they were doing as far as poking that sleeping dog there,” Mr. Daley said.

A spokeswoman for Mr. Trump did not respond to questions about Mr. Daley’s thoughts on the location. It was not the first school that Mr. Trump has chosen for a rally; he has held others at colleges and universities over many months.

But Chicago has a history of racial clashes and protests, Mr. Daley pointed out. There has been deep distrust between black residents and the police after a video released last year showed Laquan McDonald, a black teenager, being shot 16 times by a police officer.

If anything, Mr. Daley said, it should have occurred to Mr. Trump’s campaign that the venue could be a crucible for problems.

But, as Scarborough argues persuasively, Trump’s campaign chose the venue precisely because “it could be a crucible for problems” that would rev up his base on the eve a critical series of primaries:

It would also land Trump on cable news channels throughout the night, talking nonstop over endless loops of skirmishes that paled in comparison to rowdy celebrations that often explode in American cities after sports championships. Yet everyone got sucked into the political sideshow. Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio’s brief appearances on TV during the rolling cable news coverage only made their own candidacies seem smaller under the glare of Donald’s Big Tent Show.

New York Times

(chart from the New York Times)
And so, at rallies in Dayton, Cleveland and Kansas City Saturday, Trump doubled-down on presenting his campaign and his rallies as having been victimized by an aggressive assault of professional agitators from Move On, the Bernie Sanders campaign, and maybe even ISIS, and that they needed to fight back.
(Note that in Cleveland, Trump was introduced by a black minister from Cleveland Heights.)
But like a comic book super villain, Trump has a tendency to talk a little too much, and to tease his antagonists in mischievous and revealing ways.
So here he was at the Kansas City rally in what to me was the most bizarre moment of all, reading aloud the lyrics to to the 1969 Al Wilson hit, The Snake – number 4 on the all-time Top 500 Northern Soul hits.
Here’s Trump in all his enigmatic glory, setting it up.
So here’s something, a friend of mine who’s very rich, and I’ve done it one time before, and I read it and I think it’s incredible, done by Al Wilson, years ago, and think in terms of terror and terrorism, because we’ve got to do something to stop the problem folks.
We’re going to build up our military, and we are going to be strong, so powerful, that nobody’s going to mess with us folks. Nobody. Nobody.
So here’s a little poem, I guess it was put in the form of a song, but a friend of mine who’s really successful, said,”you’ve got to read it, you’ve got to read it to the folks in Kansas City, you’ve got to read it,” and I said “I’ll do it, I’ll do it.”
I did it once or twice, but I’ll do it, I love it, but think of this in terms of terror and terrorists, because we negotiate, we bargain, sometimes you can’t bargain so well, you have to show strength, you have to show strength.
So this is called The Snake.
On her way to work one morning
Down the path along side the lake
A tender hearted woman saw a poor half frozen snake
His pretty colored skin had been all frosted with the dew
“Poor thing,” she cried, “I’ll take you in and I’ll take care of you”
“Take me in tender woman
Take me in, for heaven’s sake
Take me in, tender woman,” sighed the snake
She wrapped him up all cozy in a comforter of silk
And laid him by her fireside with some honey and some milk
She hurried home from work that night and soon as she arrived
She found that pretty snake she’d taken to had been revived
“Take me in, tender woman
Take me in, for heaven’s sake
Take me in, tender woman,” sighed the snake
She clutched him to her bosom, “You’re so beautiful,” she cried
“But if I hadn’t brought you in by now you might have died”
She stroked his pretty skin again and kissed and held him tight
Instead of saying thanks, the snake gave her a vicious bite
“Take me in, tender woman
Take me in, for heaven’s sake
Take me in, tender woman,” sighed the snake
“I saved you,” cried the woman
“And you’ve bitten me, but why?
You know your bite is poisonous and now I’m going to die”
“Oh shut up, silly woman,” said the reptile with a grin
“You knew damn well I was a snake before you took me in
“Take me in, tender woman
Take me in, for heaven’s sake
Take me in, tender woman,” sighed the snake
(Writer: ROBERT S. KELLY, DARIAN MORGAN Copyright: Lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc., Universal Music Publishing Group)

Yeah. Terrorism.  Right.

But, of course, it was hard to hear Trump delivering The Snake in the midst of what was going on all around him without thinking that he’s winking at us, that that the silly woman is  the Republican Party, and that he is the wily, poisonous snake.

Here was Trump Sunday on Meet the Press, in which he 1) says his campaign is considering paying the legal expenses of the 78-year-old man who sucker punched a black protester as he was being led out by police at a rally last Wednesday in Fayetteville, and afterward said that next time, he might have to kill him, and 2) says that the man who charged the stage may have been associated with ISIS, an assertion based on an Internet hoax, but, well, he read it on the Internet, so there you have it.

It’s long, but very revealing. Skim as you please.

CHUCK TODD

I’ve got to start with what’s been happening over the last 48 to 72 hours. Do you accept any responsibility whatsoever for the escalated tension that takes place at your rallies?

DONALD TRUMP:

Well, I think if anything, a lot of people have praised me for canceling the one rally. We had 25,000 people coming; we got a lot of them not to come through notice. And the rest of them, we canceled because we had disrupters out there, that they weren’t really protesters, they were disrupters. They were like professionals.

They had Bernie Sanders signs all over the place, and they were made by Bernie Sanders people. I mean, these were professionally-made signs. And rather than going, which I could’ve done pretty easily, I would have gone, I would have made a speech, you would have had an awfully big riot, and a lot of people would have been hurt. And I’ve been given a lot of credit for not going. And everybody dispersed, and nobody was injured or hurt or beyond that.

CHUCK TODD:

Okay. But, you know, earlier in the week, and look, earlier in the week, there was an incident between a supporter of yours and a protester. And I want to play a piece of sound from a couple weeks ago from you and ask you about it on the other side.

(BEGIN TAPE)

DONALD TRUMP:

Here’s a guy, totally disruptive, throwing punches. I love the old days. You know what they used to do to guys like that when they were in a place like this? They’d be carried out on a stretcher, folks. I’d like to punch him in the face, I’ll tell you.

(END TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

Mr. Trump, 17 days later, that actually happened. One of your supporters decided to sucker punch a protester. Do you accept any responsibility for creating this atmosphere?

DONALD TRUMP:

I don’t accept responsibility, I do not condone violence in any shape. And I will tell you from what I saw, the young man stuck his finger up in the air, and the other man sort of just had it. But I still, I don’t condone violence. As far as my previous statement, we had somebody that was punching and vicious and gone crazy, a disrupter, they’re not protesters. I’m telling you, they’re disrupters, they’re professionals.

And he went absolutely wild punching, and frankly, when they punch, it’s okay. When my people punch back because they have to out of self defense, everybody says, “Oh, isn’t that terrible?” The fact is, that we have very peaceful rallies. I’ve had many, many rallies. I have 25,000, 30,000 people coming to rallies.

And out of that, we have very, very little problem. We haven’t had a real injury or anything. And then Chicago I canceled, and I did a great thing by canceling it, because who needs the problems, who needs people getting hurt? I didn’t want that.

CHUCK TODD:

But when you say–

DONALD TRUMP:

So instead of getting–

CHUCK TODD:

But Mr. Trump, when you say, you know, “If you see somebody getting to ready to throw a tomato, knock the crap out of them. Seriously, just knock the hell out of them. I promise you, I’ll pay for their legal fees.” How is that not condoning what this older gentleman did to this protester?

DONALD TRUMP:

Well, let me explain what happened. We were told just as I was going up on the stage, I was told by the secret service, “Sir, there’s a person or two people in the audience that have tomatoes. They are going to throw them at you, we think. If they do throw them, you have to be prepared.”

Now, if you get hit in the face with a tomato, let me tell you, with somebody with a strong arm, at least, let me tell you, it can be very damaging. Not good. So I was told people were in the audience, two people, with tomatoes, and they’re going to throw them at me. What I did is I said, “By the way, if you see anybody with tomatoes, right at the beginning, you’ve got to stop them. Do whatever you want to do.” I have no objection to what I said. I would say it again. People are there doing harm, you have to go and you have to use equal force.

CHUCK TODD:

Do you plan – I’m just curious–

DONALD TRUMP:

It’s not fair. It’s a one-way street.

CHUCK TODD:

I’m just curious, do you plan on paying for the legal fees of this older gentleman in North Carolina who sucker punched the protester?

DONALD TRUMP:

Well, I’m not aware. I will say this. I do want to see what that young man was doing. Because he was very taunting. He was very loud, very disruptive. And from what I understand, he was sticking a certain finger up in the air. And that is a terrible thing to do in front of somebody that frankly wants to see America made great again. And so we’ll see.

CHUCK TODD:

And that condones —

DONALD TRUMP:

I’m going to take a look at it. But I want to see what that man was doing.

CHUCK TODD:

And that condones a sucker punch though?

DONALD TRUMP:

No, as I told you before, nothing condones. But I want to see. The man got carried away, he was 78 years old, he obviously loves his country, and maybe he doesn’t like seeing what’s happening to the country. I want to see the full tape. But I don’t condone violence.

CHUCK TODD:

So you might pay for his legal fees?

DONALD TRUMP:

Well, I’m going to look at it. I’m going to see, you know, what was behind this because it was a strange event. But from what I heard, there was a lot of taunting and a certain finger was placed in the air. Not nice. Again, I don’t condone the violence. I don’t condone what he did. But you know what, not nice for the other side either.

CHUCK TODD:

It’s possible you could help him with legal fees, if this man needs it?

DONALD TRUMP:

sI’ve actually instructed my people to look into it, yes.

CHUCK TODD:

Okay. I want to ask you about the moment yesterday in Dayton. Looked like a scary moment, being rushed the stage. I want to ask you. You said it was — you praised the secret service, but then you said the man had ties to ISIS, that turned out to be a hoax. Did you go over the top there on that? Where did you get that–

DONALD TRUMP:

No, no, no, no. He was, if you look on the internet, if you look at clips —

CHUCK TODD:

Well, it turned out to be a hoax.

DONALD TRUMP:

–He was waving an American flag.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, it turned out to be a hoax. Somebody made that up, sir.

DONALD TRUMP:

Excuse me. He had talk. Well, I don’t know what they made up. All I can do is play what’s there. He was walking, dragging the American flag on the ground. Is that a correct statement? Was that a hoax too? Was he dragging the flag on the ground?

CHUCK TODD:

Well, that I don’t–

DONALD TRUMP:

And just dragging it along?

CHUCK TODD:

I’m talking about the ISIS tweet.

DONALD TRUMP:

Well, you didn’t see the clip.

CHUCK TODD:

We’re playing the clip right now.

DONALD TRUMP:

No, excuse me, you didn’t see the clip. He was playing Arabic music, he was dragging the flag along the ground, and he had internet chatter with ISIS and about ISIS. So I don’t know if he was or not. But all we did was put out what he had on his internet. He’s dragging the flag, the American flag, which I respect obviously more than you.

He was dragging the American flag on the ground like it was a piece of garbage, okay? I don’t like that. And a lot of people don’t like that. And he also had chatter about ISIS, or with ISIS. And you take a look at it. I mean, people are looking at it very seriously now. But you have to check it before you ask the question.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, I– no, we have checked it. That’s my point, sir. There’s no ties to ISIS for this man. No law enforcement official. And this video that you linked to appear to be a hoax.

DONALD TRUMP:

Okay, look, well, was it a hoax that he’s dragging the flag? Was that him? It looked like the same man to me. He was dragging a flag along the ground and he was playing a certain type of music. And supposedly, there was chatter about ISIS. Now, I don’t know. What do I know about it? All I know is what’s on the internet. And I don’t like to see a man dragging the American flag along the ground in a mocking fashion.

CHUCK TODD:

Alright, Marco Rubio said some pretty tough things about you yesterday, I want you to play it and get you to react to it on the other side.

(BEGIN TAPE)

MARCO RUBIO:

He doesn’t want to say anything to his supporters, because he doesn’t want to turn them off. Because he understands that the reason why they’re voting for him is because he has tapped into this anger. When the person you’re supporting for president is going around saying things like, “Go ahead and slap them around, I’ll pay your legal fees,” what do you think is going to happen next? Someone’s going to actually literally believe it and take it upon themselves.

(END TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

Is Marco Rubio right? Are you afraid to tell your supporters to back off?

DONALD TRUMP:

Look, first of all, Marco Rubio has the worst voting record in the United States Senate in many, many years. He doesn’t even show up to vote. He’s defrauded the people of Florida. He won’t even show up to vote. And I want to tell you, for him to be talking like that is absolutely a shame.

I have great support, I have great supporters, far greater than you understand. The fact is, if you look at the polls going into the primaries, if you look, and the caucuses, we’re up 65 and 70 percent. Some are up 102 percent.. Millions and millions of people are energized. They’re going in and voting. And by the way, that’s not for Marco Rubio and it’s not for lying Ted Cruz. That’s for Trump. I mean, they’re there, they’re voting for Trump because they want to see America made great again.

CHUCK TODD:

But I want–

DONALD TRUMP:

Ted Cruz is big trouble.

CHUCK TODD:

I understand that. But I want to button this up a little bit, because this violence on the campaign trail, it’s got a lot of people concerned. And I guess why won’t you go up on stage and ratchet it back? I mean, you’ve used rhetoric about Islam hates us, surveillance of certain mosques, calling Mexican immigrants racists. What did you expect? A lot of people say you’re reaping what you sow here, that the reason there’s so much tension at your rallies is you’ve used such divisive rhetoric. Do you have any regrets?

DONALD TRUMP:

The reason there’s tension at my rallies is that these people are sick and tired of this country being run by incompetent people that don’t know what they’re doing on trade deals, where our jobs are being ripped out of our country, Chuck. They’re being ripped out. On ISIS, where we can’t even beat ISIS with our military. Our military’s not being taken care of, we can’t even beat ISIS.

On our vets, who are being treated horribly. Frankly, they’re being treated worse than illegal immigrants. The people are angry at that. They’re not angry about something I’m saying. I’m just a messenger. The people are angry about the fact that for 12 years, the workers in this country haven’t had a pay increase, Chuck. In 12 years, they haven’t had an effective pay increase.

CHUCK TODD:

So you will not–

DONALD TRUMP:

And that’s what they’re angry about.

CHUCK TODD:

You will not call for ratcheting back the rhetoric? You will not call for it?

DONALD TRUMP:

Well, I haven’t said anything that– I’m just expressing my opinion. What have I said that’s wrong? I mean, I talk about illegal immigration, I talk about building a wall, I say Mexico’s going to pay for the wall, which they will. And all of these things. I mean, what have I said that’s wrong? You tell me. The fact is, they’re really upset with the way our country is being run. It’s a disgrace.

CHUCK TODD:

I will leave it there. Mr. Trump, stay safe on the trail, and we’ll watch you Tuesday.

DONALD TRUMP:

Thank you.

CHUCK TODD:

Thank you, sir.

DONALD TRUMP:

Thank you.

So what are Trump’s rivals to do?

Here was a clearly shaken Marco Rubio, explaining what a dangerous game he thinks Trump is playing, and how it’s “getting harder every day” to stick to his pledge to support Trump if he is the nominee.

And here was Rubio on ABC This Week Sunday. Again, it’s long, but very instructive.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Boy, we looked at those clips of you yesterday. You seemed honestly shaken by what you’ve seen this weekend. How did we get this far?

RUBIO: I think we all need to look at ourselves for a moment and ask ourselves — I think that includes the media, George, to be honest. I mean if you think about Donald Trump says these outrageous and offensive things, his speeches get covered live by cable network, wall to wall. I mean, and I know it’s good for ratings to have him on people’s show, I know he’s good for ratings to cover these speeches because of what he might say, but I think the media’s responsible for some of this.

But I think ultimately the responsibility bears on — look, those protesters in Chicago? A lot of them I believe were paid and organized; that wasn’t some organic thing. Put that aside —

STEPHANOPOULOS: By whom?

RUBIO: — for a moment. You have a — you know, I think you saw MoveOn.org, I think you saw all these different elements involved. There’s a professional industry of protest in Chicago, OK? That doesn’t — and they don’t have the right to disrupt an event and threaten violence so it doesn’t occur.

But put that aside for a moment. It’s not just the thing in Chicago. Donald Trump on a regular basis incites his crowd. He tells them oh, beat the guy up and I’ll pay your legal fees. You have a guy who sucker punches a man at one of his events, is arrested, and upon release says the next time we’re going to kill him. No condemnation.

You have his campaign manager is accused here in Florida of assaulting a female reporter. Again, no condemnation or sense of responsibility.

Last night he repeats this ridiculous story about an American general that dipped bullets in pig’s blood and shot a bunch of prisoners who were Muslim. Again, it’s like — goes off people’s backs because it’s just, we’ve become out to this outrage.

There are people out there that are unbalanced. There are people out there that listen to this stuff and we don’t know how they’re going to react. And he keeps putting this stuff out there. We’re going to have an ugly scene here; we already have seen these ugly scenes.

And I think the other point I would make is how we’ve now reached the point in this country where our political discourse looks like the comments section of a blog where people can just say whatever they want about anyone without any rules of civility, no norms that govern how we interact with one another. If we’ve reached the point where we can’t debate the proper tax rate or health care policy, our differences on foreign policy, what the government’s role should be in education, without resorting to “you’re a bad person”, “you’re an evil person”, you know, “I can say or do anything I want because I’m angry”, we’re going to our lose our republic. And we’re most certainly going to lose our ability to solve problems.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Those are strong words, “lose our republic”. If that is indeed the case, isn’t it more important to stand p to this violence than to stand by your pledge to support the nominee even if it’s Donald Trump?

RUBIO: More important to do so?

STEPHANOPOULOS: To stand up to that violence?

STEPHANOPOULOS: Look, I mean, I think — well, absolutely we’ve got to stand up to it. My point is — I don’t know if your question is do I stick by the pledge or not stick by the pledge. What I said yesterday is, look, I’ll be honest with you, it’s getting harder every day. It really is. Because while I don’t want Hillary Clinton to be President of the United States, I do not, I want her to be defeated, I think we’re having a battle to define conservatism in the Republican Party. I do not want the Republican Party or the conservative movement to be defined by what I’m seeing out of Donald Trump’s campaign.

I know people are angry. I know people are frustrated. But leadership is not about making people even angrier and even more frustrated and asking them to give you power so you can go after another group that you want to blame for people’s anger and frustration.

Real leadership is recognizing people are angry, recognizing people are frustrated, and then showing them a way forward that gives them hope and a belief that we can make things better. That’s real leadership.

That’s not what we’re getting from the frontrunner. This is a — I don’t know how else to describe this election at this point but, you know, other than it’s an important one from a generational perspective, and yet it’s turned into a real circus. And now it’s turned into something even worse.

STEPHANOPOULOS: I know you hope to be the nominee but the latest polls show you pretty far behind in Florida right now. Can you really imagine campaigning for Donald Trump this fall if he’s the nominee?

RUBIO: Well, first, let me just tell you, on Wednesday morning, some pollsters somewhere are going to have explain why they’re so wrong, not just about Florida but multiple different places. I mean —

STEPHANOPOULOS: Been wrong before, that’s for sure.

RUBIO: — these polls, and everybody — what?

STEPHANOPOULOS: We’ve been wrong before, that’s for sure.

RUBIO: They’ve been wrong before. Well, I mean, I’m just telling you, someone’s wrong here because — and some — and again these polls do reflect how voters vote because they see them and they wake up and say oh, well, he has no chance. But I can just tell you, they’ve been really wrong and I think in Florida especially, which is a closed primary. I think — but that being said, we’re going to win in Florida. You’re asking me about that. I think that’s a question beyond — I’m one vote in the state of Florida. I think the more important question is how about the millions and millions of other people around the country who have already said if Donald Trump is the nominee, they’re just not voting? They just won’t vote? No Republican can win with that many people locked in saying I’m not going to vote for our nominee.

He will lose. If Donald Trump is our nominee, he will lose. He will lose to Hillary Clinton. She will be elected. We’ll have four more years like the last eight. That will be the consequence of him being the nomin — if we nominate him.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Will you campaign for him?

RUBIO: Well, again, as I said, I’m not going to change my position today about supporting the nominee because I still believe that Donald Trump will not be the nominee. Despite all this noise that’s out there, he needs 60 percent of the delegates from this point forward in order to be the nominee. Ted Cruz by the way needs 75 percent of the remaining delegates to be the nominee. That’s the real math. I at the end of the day do not believe that Donald Trump will be our nominee and I’m going to do everything possible to keep that from happening and to give the party a choice in me, someone that people aren’t going to have to be asked that question about.

If I’m our nominee, no one’s going to be asked will you support the nominee as the president? We’ll unite the party, we’ll grow it, and we’ll win.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Sounds like you’re saying we’re going to see you in Cleveland. OK, Senator, thanks for joining us this morning.

RUBIO: Thanks, George.

Here was, I think, the critical line:

There are people out there that are unbalanced. There are people out there that listen to this stuff and we don’t know how they’re going to react. And he keeps putting this stuff out there. We’re going to have an ugly scene here; we already have seen these ugly scenes.

On Sunday, Trump, at a rally in Bloomington, Ill., said, “You know how many people have been injured at our shows? Nobody.”
I wrote a story in Sunday’s paper about how Trump was akin to a familiar figure in Southern politics — a populist demagogue in the tradition of Louisiana’s Huey Long, Alabama’s George Wallace and Texas’ W. Lee “Pass the Biscuits Pappy” O’Daniel, ideologically flexible strongmen with the common touch and the flair of a showman.
The truly sobering cautionary note here is that Huey Long was assassinated and Wallace was crippled by an attempted assassination.
The very real danger, is, as Rubio suggested, that there are a lot of Arthur Bremers, and John Hinckleys and Travis Bickles out there who may not be getting the winking kayfabe of it all.

And what was Ted Cruz’s take on all this?

Here he was on Meet the Press:

CHUCK TODD:

Let me start with the tone of the campaign. And you have addressed this a couple of times in specifically having to do with Donald Trump’s rallies.. Let me play two different explanations you’ve given to this, one from the debate and one from Friday. Here it is.

(BEGIN TAPE)

SEN. TED CRUZ:

We’ve seen for seven years a president who believes he’s above the law, who behaves like an emperor. And when you have a campaign that disrespects the voters, when you have a campaign that affirmatively encourages violence, you create an environment that only encourages this sort of nasty discourse.

(END TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

Is Donald Trump the one that’s responsible for the tone of his rallies and Donald Trump alone?

SEN. TED CRUZ:

Well, let’s be clear. Listen, the protesters have no right to engage in violence. They have no right to threaten violence. And these protesters, whether it’s Black Lives Matter or Bernie Sanders protestors who are coming in just trying to shout down any speaker, that’s not free speech. The First Amendment gives you a right to speak, but it doesn’t give you a right to silence others.

So the protestors are behaving abusively and wrong. But, at the end of the day in any campaign, responsibility starts at the top. And it is not beneficial when you have a presidential candidate like Donald Trump telling his supporters, “Punch that guy in the face.”

CHUCK TODD:

What would you advise Donald Trump to do because this is reflecting on the Republican party as a whole, or it could, considering he’s currently the frontrunner?

SEN. TED CRUZ:

Listen, I think every candidate ought to aspire towards civility, towards decency, towards bringing us together. I don’t think we should be using angry and hateful rhetoric. I don’t think we should be cursing at people. And I’ll tell you, listen, I’ve been troubled. I mentioned at the debate this week. I’m troubled by the rallies that Donald holds, where he asks all the people there to raise their hand and pledge their support to him.

This is America. We don’t pledge allegiance to a man. We pledge allegiance to a flag. We pledge our support for the Constitution. But that is something that you see kings and queens doing of their subjects. And all of this is part and parcel of the same thing. We need a president who understands he works for the people. Listen, I am running to pledge my support to you, not the other way around. And I hope that all of the candidates reflect that understanding.

CHUCK TODD:

I want you to react to something here that President Obama said at a fundraiser, responding to the tone of Donald Trump rallies. Here it is, sir.

(BEGIN TAPE)

PRESIDENT OBAMA:

And what’s been happening in our politics lately is not an accident. For years, we’ve been told we should be angry about America and that the economy’s a disaster. And that we’re weak. And that compromise is weakness. And that you can ignore science and you could ignore facts and say whatever you want about the president. And feed suspicion about immigrants and Muslims and poor people and people who aren’t like us.

(END TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

That’s the president essentially saying, “This has been happening for years,” before most of his term.

SEN. TED CRUZ:

You know, Chuck, Barack Obama’s a world class demagogue. That language there is designed to divide us. No, Mr. President, we’re not angry at that. We’re angry at politicians in Washington, including you, who ignore the men and women who elected you. Who have been presiding over our jobs going overseas for seven years.

Who have been cutting deals that are enriching the rich and powerful, the special interests and the big corporations, while working men and women are seeing their wages stagnating. And he talks about immigrants and Muslims. Mr. President, we’re mad at a president who wants to bring in Syrian refugees who may be infiltrated by ISIS. And you’re unwilling to be commander in chief and keep us safe. So don’t engage in attacking the people, like the president did. I’ll tell you, that language is the kind of self-righteous–

CHUCK TODD:

All right.

SEN. TED CRUZ:

–moralizing from the President that makes people angry.

CHUCK TODD:

You think that’s worse than what Donald Trump’s been doing?

SEN. TED CRUZ:

To be honest, I think it’s very much the same. They’re both engaging in demagoguery. We need instead a president who wakes up every day working for the hardworking taxpayers. If I’m president, Chuck, my focus is going to be the hardworking taxpayers, bringing back jobs and economic growth.

We’re going to do that by repealing Obamacare, by passing a simple flat tax. By abolishing the IRS, by pulling back the regulations that are killing small businesses.

 

You know, Chuck, Barack Obama’s a world class demagogue.

Here was Obama at a DNC reception at Gilley’s in  Dallas on Saturday, following his visit to Austin Friday.

But the truth of the matter is America is pretty darn great right now.  (Applause.)  America is making strides right now.  America is better off than it was right now.  The American people should be proud about what we’ve achieved together over the last eight years since the recession hit.  We’re great right now!  (Applause.)   

 

And what the folks who are running for office should be focused on is how we can make it even better.  Not insults and schoolyard taunts, and manufacturing facts.  (Applause.)  Not divisiveness along the lines of race or faith.  Certainly not violence against other Americans or excluding them.  We’re a better country than that. 

 

And what’s been happening in our politics lately is not an accident.  For years, we’ve been told we should be angry about America, and that the economy is a disaster, and that we’re weak and that compromise is weakness, and that you can ignore science and you can ignore facts, and say whatever you want about the President, and feed suspicion about immigrants and Muslims and poor people, and people who aren’t like “us,” and say that the reason that America is in decline is because of “those” people.

 

That didn’t just happen last week.  That narrative has been promoted now for years.  It didn’t just spring out of nowhere.  And of course, none of it has been true.  It just ignores reality — the reality that America is the most powerful nation on Earth.  The reality that our economy is not only stronger than it was eight years ago, that it’s, right now, the bright spot in the world.  That our diversity is a strength — a great gift — that makes us the envy of every other nation.  (Applause.) 

 

So the narrative that’s been pushed is false.  Demonstrably false.  And we shouldn’t be surprised then when, in the heat of political season, it starts getting carried away.  But we’ve got to say no to that.  We can have political debates without turning on one another.  We can have political debates without thinking that the people who disagree with us are all motivated by malice.  We can support candidates without treating their opponents as unpatriotic, or treasonous, or somehow deliberately trying to weaken America.  That’s not just one candidate who’s been saying that; some of the so-called more responsible candidates, including a gentleman from this state — no, no, you read what he says, it’s not — it’s no more rooted in reality than some of these other statements.  We can point out bad policies without describing them as a “government takeover” or “an assault on freedom.” 

 

And by the way, when I say this, this is not about “political correctness.”  It’s about not having to explain to our kids why our politics sounds like a schoolyard fight.  We shouldn’t be afraid to take them to rallies, or let them watch debates.  They watch the way we conduct ourselves.  They learn from us.  And we should be teaching them something about this democracy is a vibrant and precious thing.  It’s going to be theirs someday, and we should be teaching them how to disagree without being disagreeable, and how to engage, and how to analyze facts, and how to be honest and truthful, and admit if you make a mistake, and teach them that politics at its best is about a battle of ideas, and resolving our differences without encouraging or resorting to violence. 

 

And our leaders, those who aspire to be our leaders should be trying to bring us together, and not turning us against one another — (applause) — and speak out against violence, and reject efforts to spread fear or turn us against one another.  (Applause.)  And if they refuse to do that, they don’t deserve our support.  (Applause.)  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. 

 

Well, I guess that is some world class demagoguery. But, maybe I haven’t been in Texas long enough, but I still can distinguish that from what Trump’s up to, and has been up to for a long time.

Trump, after all, was the lead birther, denying that Obama was American-born (something that you might think Cruz would be sensitive to), denying that he was legitimately president.

All the other Republican candidates knew that going in, and, from the day Trump announced, promising to build a wall to protect America from Mexican rapists and other criminals, the nature of Trump’s campaign was apparent.

Some candidates – Rand Paul, Rick Perry, Jeb Bush, even Carly Fiorina – objected and paid a price. But Cruz was the candidate who defended Trump, who said how much he liked him and how glad he was that he was in the race.

It was a practical tack, but a cynical one. Maybe Cruz, more than the others, appreciated the kayfabe of it all.

Last night, Roger Stone was featured on the excellent Showtime real time documentary of the 2016 race, The Circus, co-created and co-produced by Austin’s own Mark McKinnon.

Stone was introduced as a master of the dark political arts. He was probably Trump’s oldest and closest adviser until the summer, when it was explained, he ran afoul of Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski and was either cast out of the formal campaign or quit, though, he continues to regularly consult with Trump and look out for his interests.

Stone is also the co-author with Austin’s own Robert Morrow of The Clintons’ War on Women, and the man Morrow credits with his successful strategy to get elected chair of the Travis Country Republican Party, which apparently consisted of keeping his mouth shut.

“If Caligula can elect his horse to the Roman Senate to mock them, I can elect Morrow Chairman of the Travis GOP,” Stone said in a subsequent email.

But I bring up Stone because, while Cruz aspires to be the next Ronald Reagan, and often invokes Reagan’s famous 1964 speech A Time for Choosing, in which he endorsed the lost-cause of Barry Goldwater in the name of higher principle, Cruz’s tactical approach to Trump is way more Nixon than Reagan.

As Stone, who notes on the Circus that he had dinner with Nixon two days before his death, told me over a recent lunch in Austin, “Ted Cruz wants to be Reagan, but he’s Nixon, the poor bastard, he’s Nixon.”

 

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