After his rallies in Arizona this weekend were marked by protests and violence, Donald Trump on Sunday complained of a “double standard” in coverage of those incidents and defended his campaign manager after video showed the manager grabbing a demonstrator by the collar and yanking him backward during a rally in Tucson, Arizona.
The Tucson rally included one of the most violent confrontations yet at a Trump appearance, when a protester being escorted out of the arena by the police was sucker-punched, knocked to the ground and repeatedly pounded and kicked by a Trump supporter.
Asked about the incident on ABC’s “This Week,” Trump allowed that the beating was “a tough thing to watch,” but he refused to condemn the assault. He offered harsher words for the victim, saying he had been accompanied by another protester provocatively wearing a Ku Klux Klan costume.
“At what point do people blame the protesters?” he said, calling them “professional agitators.”
Trump also complained about a roadblock by protesters who sought to prevent his supporters from reaching a rally outside Phoenix on Sunday.
“I think it’s very unfair that these, really, in many cases professional, in many cases sick, protesters can put cars in a road blocking thousands of great Americans from coming to a speech, and nobody says anything about that,” Trump said, adding: “It’s a very unfair double standard.”
Trump was also questioned about a video showing his campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, accosting a demonstrator in Tucson. Lewandowski was seen grabbing the protester by his collar and, along with someone who appeared to be a plainclothed security guard, yanking him backward. According to CBS News, the protester was part of a group of people who had stood behind Trump and jeered him as he spoke.
“I give him credit for having spirit,” Trump said of Lewandowski, adding that the protesters had been holding “horrible, profanity-laden signs” in the background as television cameras recorded his speech. He said Lewandowski was trying to remove the signs from view.
Trump added that police officers and security guards in the Tucson arena had been “a little bit lax.”
But other Republican leaders, including U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Senate majority leader, suggested Sunday that Trump should do more to calm his crowds.
Reince Priebus, the Republican national chairman, said it was a mistake for a campaign aide to get physical with protesters: “As far as everyone getting involved in the crowds, leave it to the professionals,” he said on “This Week.”
McConnell, for his part, urged stronger condemnation of violence at campaign events. “I think all the candidates for president ought to be discouraging that kind of activity because the people in the audience tend to listen to those who are speaking,” he said on “This Week,” adding: “We ought to condemn this kind of violence and encourage the American people to engage in this political debate in a respectful way.”