An unremittingly belligerent Donald Trump has indirectly threatened to flood the rallies of Bernie Sanders with his own supporters as retaliation for what he insists has been the deliberate infiltration of his events by protestors loyal to the Senator from Vermont.
The developer, who appears set to make more gains in his bid for the Republican nomination when five big states vote on Tuesday, meanwhile said he may pay the legal fees of a 78-year-old supporter facing assault charges for throwing a punch at a protester at one of his rallies last week.
The latest Trump manoeuvers put paid to any suggestion of his perhaps attempting to calm the tensions now enveloping the presidential race in America, which exploded into violent skirmishes ahead of a scheduled Trump rally in Chicago on Friday evening. The event was cancelled at the last moment.
It was the first time since the riots at the Democratic Convention in Chicago in 1968 that Americans have seen political combat turn into physical confrontation. There are fears that the scenes in Chicago, which left two police officers hurt, could happen again soon elsewhere, if not something more serious.
One after another the other contenders for the presidency, from both parties, blasted Mr Trump as having some responsibility for the violence, some citing his rhetoric on ejecting Mexican immigrants and blocking entry to American for all Muslims. Hillary Clinton, the Democratic frontrunner, accusing him of “political arson”. But Mr Trump just dug himself further in.
Answering questions on NBC, he suggested that his supporters are “sick and tired” of American leadership and the failure to confront problems including the rise of Isis. “The people are angry at that – they’re not angry about something I’m saying. I’m just the messenger,” he said “I don’t accept responsibility. I do not condone violence in any shape.”
Since Friday, Mr Trump has taken to invoking Mr Sanders every time a protester disrupts one of his event and has to removed by security. “Bernie’s people,” he intones at each interruption which at some of his appearances now are so frequent he barely gets the chance to speak about much else. “Get ‘em out,” he said at one particularly chaotic event. “Hey Bernie, get your people in line.”
Donald Trump's most controversial quotes
Donald Trump's most controversial quotes
1/14 On Isis:
"Some of the candidates, they went in and didn’t know the air conditioner didn’t work and sweated like dogs, and they didn’t know the room was too big because they didn’t have anybody there. How are they going to beat ISIS?"
2/14 On immigration:
"I will build a great wall — and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me —and I’ll build them very inexpensively. I will build a great, great wall on our southern border, and I will make Mexico pay for that wall. Mark my words."
3/14 On Free Trade:
"Free trade is terrible. Free trade can be wonderful if you have smart people. But we have stupid people."
PAUL J. RICHARDS | AFP | Getty Images
4/14 On Mexicans:
"When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re sending people that have lots of problems. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists."
5/14 On China:
"I just sold an apartment for $15 million to somebody from China. Am I supposed to dislike them?... I love China. The biggest bank in the world is from China. You know where their United States headquarters is located? In this building, in Trump Tower."
6/14 On work:
"If you're interested in 'balancing' work and pleasure, stop trying to balance them. Instead make your work more pleasurable."
7/14 On success:
"What separates the winners from the losers is how a person reacts to each new twist of fate."
8/14 On life:
"Everything in life is luck."
9/14 On ambition:
"You have to think anyway, so why not think big?"
10/14 On his opponents:
"Bush is totally in favour of Common Core. I don't see how he can possibly get the nomination. He's weak on immigration. He's in favour of Common Core. How the hell can you vote for this guy? You just can't do it."
11/14 On Obamacare:
"You have to be hit by a tractor, literally, a tractor, to use it, because the deductibles are so high. It's virtually useless. And remember the $5 billion web site?... I have so many web sites, I have them all over the place. I hire people, they do a web site. It costs me $3."
12/14 On Barack Obama:
"Obama is going to be out playing golf. He might be on one of my courses. I would invite him. I have the best courses in the world. I have one right next to the White House."
13/14 On himself:
"Love him or hate him, Trump is a man who is certain about what he wants and sets out to get it, no holds barred. Women find his power almost as much of a turn-on as his money."
14/14 On America:
"The American Dream is dead. But if I get elected president I will bring it back bigger and better and stronger than ever before and we will make America great again."
Some of those engaging in skirmishes in Chicago on Friday were indeed carry Sanders’ signs, but the Vermont Senator called the notion that he told his supporters to disrupt the event a lie. Anyone who had been following Mr Trump and his campaign, “knows that he tells the truth very, very rarely,” Senator Sanders told ABC. At rally on Saturday, Mr Trump referred to Mr Sanders as “our communist friend”.
According to Mr Trump it is the other way about, however. “Bernie Sanders is lying when he says his disruptors aren’t told to go to me events,” he said on Sunday via Twitter. He then went on: “Be careful Bernie or my supporters will go to yours!”
“If conservative Republicans went into his rallies you see things that would be unbelievable,” the New York developer and former reality TV host told CNN later.
Arguably it was the surfacing of video footage of the 78-year-old aiming a punch at the black protestor at the North Carolina event that set things off in Chicago, where protesters were almost equal in number to supporters. The rally was called off about 30 minutes before Mr Trump was due to take the stage.
Provocative might be the best way to characterise Mr Trump pondering offering financial help to the man with the clenched fist, identified as John Franklin McGraw. The candidate told NBC that the man may have “got carried away,” and “maybe he doesn’t like seeing what’s happening to the country.”
After his Illinois stop, Mr Trump is due to appear before thousands in an outdoor ampitheatre in Boca Raton in South Florida. New polling suggested that Mr Trump remained in a strong position on Tuesday to win Florida, the home state of Senator Marco Rubio whose own candidacy now hangs by a thread. By contrast there were signs that John Kasich may hold of the Trump challenge in Ohio, where he is Governor, a victory that would give new life to his campaign.