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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

‘Temperature’ at Trump Rallies

Asked if he would consider lowering the temperature at his rallies when protests erupt, Donald Trump said, “I think, in many cases, I do lower the temperature.” But in many cases he has not. Quite the opposite.

A review of his speeches shows Trump waxing nostalgic for the “old days” when protesters could be roughed up, as he said in Oklahoma, North Carolina, Nevada and Missouri. In St. Louis, Trump lamented that there are “no consequences to protesting anymore.”

At his rallies, Trump has also recognized and praised supporters who acted out and expressed his own desire to fight. He has told his audiences about some “rough guys” in New Hampshire who punched out a protester — calling their forceful response “a beautiful thing.” In South Carolina, he invited a supporter on stage after the man ripped up a protester’s sign and got into a brief scuffle.

As for himself, Trump expressed irritation in Las Vegas with a “smiling, laughing” protester, saying he wanted to “punch him in the face.”

Trump’s rallies increasingly have become a target for protesters as the leading Republican candidate for president continues to collect delegates and move toward capturing the party’s nomination. The Trump campaign decided to cancel a rally in Chicago on March 11 for fear of violence.

On CNN’s “State of the Union” on March 13, Trump was asked by anchor Jake Tapper if he would consider “trying to lower the temperature when these protests erupt.” Trump responded, “I think, in many cases, I do lower the temperature.”

But there are many instances in which Trump has stoked the cheering crowds, rather than seeking to lower the temperature. He often remarks how much “fun” his rallies are because the protests are so entertaining.

What follows is a chronological recap of such instances that occurred at seven Trump rallies in Iowa, South Carolina, Nevada, Oklahoma, Michigan, North Carolina and Missouri over a six-week period.

We start in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where Trump told his audience that he was warned a protester may throw some tomatoes at him. Trump asked his supporters to “knock the crap out of him” if that happened and he would pay their legal bills.

Trump, Feb. 1: So if you see somebody getting ready to throw a tomato, knock the crap out of him, would you? Seriously, OK, just knock the hell. I promise you I will pay for the legal fees, I promise, I promise.

In North Augusta, South Carolina, on Feb. 16, Trump praised a supporter who got into a scuffle with a protester. The Trump supporter ripped a sign from a protester’s hands that read, “Keep America Great. Keep all Immigrants,” and then the two men briefly tussled. A third man — another Trump supporter — quickly broke it up. Trump invited his supporters to the stage.

Trump, Feb. 16: Alright, thank you. Who is that person who stood — that was so great. Who was the person that did that? Put up your hand. Put up your hand. I wanna — come on. Bring that person up. I love (unintelligible). Come on up here. So amazing.

Trump shook hands with the man who ripped up the sign and got into the tussle with the protester. He then invited the man to speak. The Trump supporter said, “Do not let them intimidate to you. You back this man right here to the hilt. He will say anything.”

In Las Vegas on Feb. 22, Trump expressed irritation that a protester was “smiling” and “having a good time” as he was being removed from the event. “I’d like to punch him in the face,” Trump said. He also pined for the “old days” when a protester like that would be “carried out on a stretcher.” (Starting at the 38:55 mark.)

Trump, Feb. 22: Look, see, he’s smiling. See, he’s having a good time. Ah, I love the old days, you know. You know what I hate. There’s a guy, totally disruptive, throwing punches. We’re not allowed to punch back anymore. 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. … He’s walking out like — big high fives, smiling, laughing. I’d like to punch him in the face.

Politico, however, reported that the protester was not throwing punches. Politico wrote: “According to multiple South Point security personnel, the man did not throw any punches. Trump ‘was just over-exaggerating,’ said one security guard, who asked that his name not be used.”

Four days later, in Oklahoma City, Trump told supporters that the police response to protesters is less effective because it is not “politically correct” to use force (starting at 1:10 minute mark).

Trump, Feb. 26: You know, in the good old days, law enforcement acted a lot quicker than this. A lot quicker. In the good old days, they’d rip him out of that seat so fast. But today everybody’s politically correct — our country’s going to hell with being politically correct.

At a rally in Warren, Michigan, Trump told a supporter, “I’ll defend you in court” if a protester is hurt while being removed. He then told the story of the quick and forceful response of a couple of supporters in New Hampshire, saying it was “really amazing to watch” as the men “took him out.” (Starting at the 46:40 mark.)

Trump, March 4: All right, yeah, get him out. Try not to hurt him. If you do, I’ll defend you in court. Don’t worry about it. He wasn’t bad, but some of these protesters are really violent people. Now if we’re tough with them we get criticized. We had one guy in New Hampshire, actually, who was a rough guy and he was swinging and swinging and punching. He was really going down for the count and we had a couple of people in the audience who were equally rough and they took him out. They took him out. No, they took him out and I’ll tell you what. It was really amazing to watch.

Five days later, at a rally in Fayetteville, North Carolina, Trump again expressed his longing for “the good old days” when protesters were roughed up. He said the more gentle response to protesters is a sign of weakness. (Starting at the 41:25 mark.)

Trump, March 9: What’s more fun than a Trump rally, right? In the good old days, this doesn’t happen because they used to treat them very, very rough. And when they protested once, you know, they would not do it again so easily. But today they walk in and they put their hand up and they put the wrong finger in the air at everybody, and they get away with murder, because we’ve become weak. We’ve become weak, and we really have become weak.

Trump went on to repeat the story of his supporters getting into a fight with a protester in New Hampshire. “It was a beautiful thing,” Trump said.

It was also at the Fayetteville rally that a Trump supporter sucker punched a protester in the face as the protester was walking up the stairs to leave the rally.

WNCN, a television station serving the Fayetteville area, reported that 78-year-old John McGraw was arrested and initially charged with assault, battery and disorderly conduct for allegedly striking the Trump protester. The Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office later added a charge of “communicating threats,” the station reported, after viewing a clip of McGraw saying: “The next time we see him, we might have to kill him. We don’t know who he is. He might be with a terrorist organization.”

The TV station quoted McGraw as saying the protester may be with the Islamic State, which is also known as ISIS. Coincidentally, Trump made a similar claim — which was widely debunked — that a protester who attempted to rush the stage at a Trump rally March 12 in Ohio “has ties to ISIS.”

Two days after the Fayetteville rally, Trump spoke in St. Louis on March 11. That was the same day that he canceled his rally in Chicago.

The St. Louis rally was disrupted multiple times, and Trump lamented (starting at the36:43-minute mark) that there are “no consequences to protesting anymore.”

Trump, March 11: Part of the problem, and part of the reason it takes so long [to remove protesters], is nobody wants to hurt each other anymore, right, and they’re [the security officers] being politically correct the way they take them out – so it takes a little bit longer and honestly protesters they realize it, they realize that there are no consequences to protesting anymore. There used to be consequences. There are none anymore.

The St. Louis rally was later disrupted again, prompting Trump to say: “What’s the same guy trying to come back, right? See that? In the old days they didn’t come back, I can tell you that. They were gone. They were taken out. They were gone.”

Trump is entitled to his opinion about the protesters and how they should be handled, but the evidence shows he is not seeking in many cases to “lower the temperature” at his rallies.