Letter from the US: Republicans in disarray as Trump pushes racist violence amid protests

A protester engages in a discussion with Trump supporters in Chicago on March 11.

Amid growing incidents of violence at rallies for Donald Trump and protests confronting the Republican presidential frontrunner, the Republican Party's establishment has opened a campaign to try to deny Trump the party's presidential nomination.

In a broadside attack on Trump, the Republican candidate in 2012 Mitt Romney launched a drive under the slogan “anyone but Trump.” He said a Trump presidency would be a disaster for “America” — strongly implying that voters should not support Trump in the general election if he wins the nomination.

Republican fears

Amid growing incidents of violence at rallies for Donald Trump and protests confronting the Republican presidential frontrunner, the Republican Party's establishment has opened a campaign to try to deny Trump the party's presidential nomination.

In a broadside attack on Trump, the Republican candidate in 2012 Mitt Romney launched a drive under the slogan “anyone but Trump.” He said a Trump presidency would be a disaster for “America” — strongly implying that voters should not support Trump in the general election if he wins the nomination.

Republican fears

Amid growing incidents of violence at rallies for Donald Trump and protests confronting the Republican presidential frontrunner, the Republican Party's establishment has opened a campaign to try to deny Trump the party's presidential nomination.

In a broadside attack on Trump, the Republican candidate in 2012 Mitt Romney launched a drive under the slogan “anyone but Trump.” He said a Trump presidency would be a disaster for “America” — strongly implying that voters should not support Trump in the general election if he wins the nomination.

Republican fears

In the past few weeks, tens of millions of dollars from Republican donors have poured into huge advertisements against Trump in states with primary elections.

Trump's overall victory in the March 15 primaries was a setback to the Republican establishment's campaign. He has pulled further ahead, with only far-right Texas Senator Ted Cruz having any chance against Trump. Exit polls in these primaries indicate that a large minority of Republicans would opt for a “third party” if Trump was the nominee.

The Republican establishment also does not like Cruz, viewing him as unelectable in the general election. Romney is projecting a campaign to prevent Trump from winning enough delegates to the Republican convention to have a majority.

This would result in a “brokered” convention — a backroom struggle to come up with an alternative to Trump.

Trump has responded by threatening that if he has a large plurality (the highest number, but short of a majority) of delegates, but is denied the nomination, there will be a “riot” at the convention.

Trump has doubled down his racist rhetoric in recent weeks. He has topped this by inciting violence against protesters at his rallies.

Inciting violence

For some time, Trump has urged his supporters to physically expel non-violent, even silent, protesters, but has now stepped it up to a new level. Here are some of his recent comments to his supporters as they attacked protesters:

“I'd like to punch him in the face, I tell you.”

“In the good old days this doesn't happen, because they used to treat them very, very rough.”

“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.”

“If you see somebody getting ready to throw a tomato [no protesters have thrown tomatoes at his rallies], knock the crap out them, would ya? Seriously, just knock the crap out of them.”

When he talks of the “good old days”, Trump is referring to the era of segregation, which was defeated by the civil rights struggles of the 1950s and '60s. In that era, any Black protesters — and many of the anti-Trump protesters are Black, Latino or other people of colour — at a white racist rally like Trump's (“a place like this”) was likely to be killed.

An exit poll at the February 20 Republican primary in South Carolina, which Trump handily won, found 20% of those who voted for Trump said that Abraham Lincoln was wrong to emancipate the African American slaves in the Civil War. More than a third wished the South had won that war.

Probably more have these views, but are embarrassed to say so publicly.

At a recent rally in North Carolina, while a group of Black youth were being marched out of the meeting, a white Trump supporter reached over and punched one of them in the face.

Smiling broadly when interviewed on TV, the assaulter said he had a good time at the rally because he had “punched this …” — he paused while searching for something other than the “n” word on his lips — “…loudmouth”. He added that “next time he might be killed”.

The man was arrested for assault. Trump said he would pay his legal expenses.

At a subsequent Ohio rally, Trump accused a protester of being an ISIS operative. At a March 11 rally in St Louis, 31 people were arrested when Trump supporters and protesters clashed.

The New York Daily News showed a bloodied African American protester on the ground under the headline: “Blood on Don's Hands.”

Chicago rally

But things were different when he came to Chicago that same night. Until then, his rallies had faced only a few protesters. But in Chicago, he was met by 10,000 demonstrators.

Trump was scheduled to speak at the University of Illinois–Chicago, a majority non-white campus. Students and academics responded by organsing an anti-racist protest.

A broad coalition of immigrant rights, Latino, Muslim, Arab and Black groups, including the Black Student Union and Black Lives Matter, was formed. The campus workers' union was also involved.

As protesters gathered on the campus, they were joined by people from the largely Latino surrounding neighbourhood.

Also joining was Fearless Leading by the Youth, a group of young Blacks in Chicago that was organising a demonstration against the cover-up by the Democratic Party administration of mayor Rahm Emmanuel of a police murder of a Black teenager.

On hearing of the Trump protest, they decided to join — raising their demands that Emmanuel and his attorney-general be sacked.

The united multi-racial protesters marched to the rally site, carrying signs in Spanish, Arabic and English with many different slogans aimed at Trump's racist attacks. There were thousands of posters, banners, a horn section and a mariachi band as the crowd surrounded the arena.

The rally was to be held in an arena that seats about 9000. Both Trump supporters and protesters managed to get inside, with many more from both groups outside.

Tensions were high. Then, half-an-hour after Trump was supposed to arrive, he called off the event.

Contrary to many reports in the press, the protesters inside did not shut down the rally — Trump shut it down in the face of the large number of protesters. The protesters were well-organised and disciplined.

Responses

When the announcement of the cancellation of the rally was made, the protesters inside, including many who had disguised themselves as Trump supporters, broke out in cheers. Enraged, the Trump supporters attacked the protesters, who fought back.

Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton blamed “both sides”. Other Republican candidates have attacked Trump's incitement of violence.

But the Republican establishment is hypocritical in its attacks. They oppose immigration reform, which most Latinos know is an attack on all of them. They want to increase the militarisation of the border with Mexico.

Ever since their “Southern strategy” in the 1970s, Republicans have embraced anti-Black racism. They have restricted Black and Latino voting rights in the states they control. They have, with a wink, implied that Muslims are a danger.

On these and other issues including foreign policy, they have laid the groundwork for Trump. What they are really opposed to is the way Trump crudely exaggerates these Republican policies. They also fear he cannot win an election — and that the party cannot control him.

How the Republican Party deals with their deep divisions remains to be seen. We may not know until the convention or even after.

Meanwhile the Democrats, who have also pushed racist policies when in power, are not the answer to the increasingly rightist positions of the Republicans. This will be the focus of a future piece.

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