Late in Thursday night’s CNN Republican debate, moderator Jake Tapper briefly took the time to ask Donald Trump about how his rallies are becoming brutal punch-filled anger-fests with Trump himself sometimes encouraging the violence. Tapper asked Trump about the supporter who was arrested earlier today for sucker-punching a black protester at a North Carolina rally. “Do you believe you’ve done anything to encourage this kind of violence?” Tapper asked.
“I hope not, I hope not,” Trump said, launching into a spiel that alternated condemnations for the sucker-punch with inappropriate justifications. “We have 25,000, 30,000 people, they come with tremendous love and passion for the country.” Justification. “You’re mentioning one case, I haven’t seen, I heard about it, which I don’t like.” Condemnation. “When they see what’s going on in this country, they have anger that’s unbelievable. They love this country. They don’t like seeing bad trade deals, higher taxes, they don’t like seeing a loss of their jobs where our jobs have just been devastated. And I know—I mean, I see it.” Justification. “There is some anger. There’s also great love for the country. It’s a beautiful thing in many respects.” Justification! “But I certainly do not condone that at all, Jake.” Condemnation.
Tapper then ran through some of Trump’s comments that sound, well, like direct incitements or fantasies of violence: “I’d like to punch him in the face”; “in the good old days, they’d rip him out of that seat so fast”; “knock the crap out of them”; “knock the hell—I promise you, I will pay for the legal fees. I promise, I promise.”
Here Trump abandoned the condemnation and went all-in on justification. “We have some protesters who are bad dudes, they have done bad things,” he said. “They are swinging, they are really dangerous and they get in there and start hitting people. We had a couple big, strong, powerful guys doing serious damage.” This does not apply to the protester today who was walking out of the event only to be sucker-punched by a Trump fan, but OK.
Trump concluded by saying, hey, let’s give a hand for those police. You all like police, no? “It’s usually the police and, by the way, speaking of the police, we should pay our respects to the police because they are taking tremendous abuse in this country and they do a phenomenal job.”
Everyone applauded this incredible hybrid of dodging and pandering, because nothing matters.