Hillary Clinton on Saturday branded Donald Trump’s behavior “political arson,” warning that he’s encouraging violence at his rallies, as harsh criticism of the Republican front-runner echoed through the political world.
Trump remained unapologetic, saying Saturday his rally in Chicago had been canceled the previous day because of “organized, professionally-staged wise guys.”
The uproar over protests at Trump’s rallies adds an uncertain new element to Tuesday’s primaries in Missouri, Illinois, Ohio, Florida and North Carolina. Clinton and Trump remain ahead in polls, but both face tough challenges, particularly in the Midwest.
Trump could be most vulnerable. In state after state, late-deciding voters have moved away from him. Clinton saw last-minute erosion last week in Michigan, whose demographics and economic woes are similar to those of the Midwestern states voting Tuesday.
Trump’s rallies have become more and more tense. A few miles from the site of Clinton’s rally Saturday, Trump spoke to 3,000 people Friday in downtown St. Louis. Protesters repeatedly interrupted him, and 32 people were arrested.
Later Friday, his Chicago rally was canceled because of safety concerns. Hundreds of protesters had packed the event, and fights broke out between Trump supporters and opponents.
Trump opponents Saturday condemned their rival. “Donald Trump has created a toxic environment,” Gov. John Kasich of Ohio said Saturday. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., called the disturbances “frightening.” Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, lamented “this is not going to be the last incident.”
Missouri is one of the less predictable states voting Tuesday. Polls show Trump and Clinton with single-digit leads. Clinton is pushing hard in the St. Louis area, helping to stoke enthusiasm as she battles Sen. Bernie Sanders, Ind.-Vt. Sanders, sensing momentum, added a last-minute stop Sunday at Affton High School.
Clinton stopped first at O’Fallon Park Recreation Complex, where she met with about 100 volunteers.
“You know, we will always have our differences, won’t we? That’s what happens in a democracy like ours,” Clinton said.
“But the ugly, divisive rhetoric we are hearing from Donald Trump and the encouragement of violence and aggression is wrong, and it’s dangerous.”
Be careful, Clinton said. “If you play with matches, you’re going to start a fire you can't control. That's not leadership. That’s political arson. The test of leadership and citizenship is the opposite. If you see bigotry, oppose it. If you see violence, condemn it. And if you see a bully, stand up to him.”
If you play with matches, you’re going to start a fire you can't control. That's not leadership. That’s political arson.
Trump remained unapologetic. “The organized group of people, many of them thugs, who shut down our First Amendment rights in Chicago, have totally energized America!” he tweeted Saturday.
He told a rally in Dayton, Ohio, on Saturday, “We’re all together and we want to get along with everybody, but when they have organized, professionally-staged wise guys we’ve got to fight back, we’ve got to fight back.”
His speech was interrupted several times, and one protester rushed the stage, according to wire reports from Dayton. Trump continued to taunt the hecklers, at one point telling one, “Go back home to mommy.”
Clinton’s big public event Saturday came at suburban St. Louis’ Nelson-Mulligan Carpenters’ Training Center. More than 1,000 people waited, some for as long as four hours, to hear her.
She first took a guided tour through the warehouse space, asking questions about the machinery and learning about the apprentice program.
Clinton then quickly engaged the audience with her blasts at Trump. “If you see bigotry you should oppose it,” she said. “If you see violence you should prevent it and if you see a bully you should stand up to him.”
She later took another poke at his plan to build a giant wall separating Mexico and the United States: “We’re not here to erect more walls,” Clinton said, “unless they hold up a house or a commercial building.”
Clinton also jabbed at Sanders. “We can’t afford a single-issue president,” she insisted, saying she’d follow the economic policies of Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.
Clinton got her loudest cheer when she urged giving women equal pay for equal work. And she got big cheers when she maintained the economy had thrived under Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.
“I don’t think he gets the credit he deserves,” she said of Obama’s efforts to revive the economy.
‘Hit the nail on the head’
After Clinton spoke for 20 minutes inside the training facility, the former secretary of state worked the rope line and took pictures with supporters.
Staying back from the rush of supporters was Bill O’Hara of Mascoutah, who said the speech covered the issues fairly.
“No pun intended, she hit the nail on the head,” O’Hara said. “We need a leader like Hillary who’s going to help America, not turn us into a divided country. Right now Republicans are crossing the line. They need to do something about Donald Trump.”
Many people arrived early for the speech, including Debbie Dial of Edwardsville, who was at the training facility an hour and half before the doors opened.
The Clinton supporter carried a sign that said “Peace, Love and Hillary” and lauded the former New York senator’s experience.
“She’s traveled the world, met with world leaders,” Dial said. “She’s been boots-on-the-ground with activism in the 60s into the 70s. She’s been working all of her life for the poor, disadvantage, women, children, African-American community, and Hispanic communities. She’s been there for everybody. She’s got the full picture she needs to be a great president.”
She’s been boots-on-the-ground with activism in the 60s into the 70s. She’s been working all of her life for the poor, disadvantage, women, children, African-American community, and Hispanic communities. She’s been there for everybody.
Debbie Dial, Clinton supporter
Cruz also was in the St. Louis area on Saturday, visiting a high school in Ballwin, Mo., along with businesswoman Carly Fiorina, a former rival in the GOP primary.
The presidential primary races in Missouri may be too close to call, a poll released Friday shows.
Until now, Missouri has been overshadowed by the bigger Tuesday prizes in Ohio, Florida, Illinois and North Carolina. But a close race and the chance of picking up a handful of Missouri’s convention delegates have persuaded several candidates to invest time and energy in the state in the final hours.