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 was cancelled 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.
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Trump’s rallies have become more and more tense. A few miles from the site of Clinton’s rally Saturday, Trump spoke to more than 3,000 people Friday in downtown St. Louis. Protesters repeatedly interrupted him, and 32 people were arrested.
Later Friday, his Chicago rally was cancelled 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.”
Trump also suggested that the campaigns of Clinton and Sanders sent their supporters to his Chicago rally, with a goal of causing trouble. That drew a strong response from Sanders, who called Trump a “pathological liar” who needs to stop “provoking” violence.
“What caused the protests at Trump’s rally is a candidate that has promoted hatred and division against Latinos, Muslims, women, and people with disabilities, and his birther attacks against the legitimacy of President Obama,” Sanders said. “What caused the violence at Trump’s rally is a campaign whose words and actions have encouraged it on the part of his supporters.”
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, disadvantaged, 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, disadvantaged, women, children, African-American community, and Hispanic communities. She’s been there for everybody.
Debbie Dial, Clinton supporter
Not everyone at the Clinton event was a supporter.
Amalia Burkemper, 26, of Creve Coeur, Mo., is a Sanders supporter and held signs pointing out Clinton’s faults, including her vote in favor of the war in Iraq, support for trade deals and shifting stances on gay marriage.
Burkemper even said she would vote for the Green Party candidate if Clinton secured the Democratic Party nomination and not Sanders.
“I wanted to get Bernie’s message out,” Burkemper said. “I feel like that’s his biggest drawback right now, and that’s fighting the name recognition Hillary has.”
In a three-generation family affair, Chris Porter, 62, her daughter, Erica Spencer, 37, and Spencer’s daughter Alecia McCulley, 9, all of Florisant, attended the Clinton rally.
“I think our country is at a special time, we need a special president,” Porter said. “I think Hillary is the person for the job. Not only because she is a woman. She has experienced a lot.
“Our country is great. I don’t know what ‘make our country great again’ means,” Porter added, referring to Trump’s campaign slogan. “It’s already great.”
For Spencer, teaching her daughter about politics and voting is part of exposing her to different experiences.
“It’s important to get her involved early so … she could understand why it’s important to vote,” Spencer said.
Haley Dioneda, 22, of Granite City, is a Southern Illinois University Edwardsville student and supports Clinton for her support of women’s rights, health care, and justice system reform ideas, among other things.
“She wants to focus on rehabilitation for the drugs instead of pure incarceration because obviously that doesn’t work,” Dioneda said.
Derrick Neuner, of St. Louis, but originally from Mascoutah, arrived at 5:30 a.m. to ensure he would be on the rope line during the event.
The athletic trainer graduated $100,000 in student debt and likes Clinton’s ideas of helping people refinance student loans.
“I don’t think it’s fair you can refinance a home at 3 or 4 percent but I’m stuck at 8 or 9 percent (for) student loans,” Neuner said.
Nancy Bronke, 54, of Fairview Heights had a folding chair as she waited in line. Earlier in the week she saw former President Bill Clinton speak in St. Louis, and wanted to hear his wife.
“She has experience, she’s been to so many countries, met so many important people, and knows how to talk the correct way, as opposed to some other people who don’t know how to mince their words,” Bronke said. “She’s very much a diplomat. She’s very in-tune to what this country needs.”
Cruz also was in the St. Louis area on Saturday, visiting Parkway West 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.