1. Opinion

Editorial: Trump's dangerous, divisive campaign

Florida voters go to the polls today as American politics has taken its ugliest turn in more than a generation. While opinion polls show Trump ahead, Republicans who have not yet voted can send a message that this is not what their political party stands for.
Published Mar. 14, 2016

Florida voters go to the polls today as American politics has taken its ugliest turn in more than a generation. Donald Trump's campaign of fear and hate has predictably produced dangerous rallies with violent confrontations and standoffs between supporters and protesters. While opinion polls show Trump ahead here, Republicans who have not yet voted can send a message that this is not what their political party stands for or the change they are seeking in Washington.

Trump's rally on Monday afternoon in Tampa came off relatively smoothly, perhaps because his campaign chose a smaller space at the Tampa Convention Center and security was increased. There were verbal confrontations outside between protesters and Trump supporters, and the removal of several protesters inside produced chants of "U.S.A.!" Trump acknowledges his supporters are angry, but he takes no responsibility for exploiting their frustrations about the economy, immigration and other issues.

The charged atmosphere at too many Trump events has played out online and on television. An older white man was arrested after punching a younger black protester at a North Carolina rally, and Trump responded by suggesting he would pay the attacker's legal fees. His campaign manager has been accused of assaulting a journalist trying to question his boss at a rally. Trump canceled a large Chicago rally Friday that drew large numbers of protesters, citing security concerns although police said they played no role in that decision. Many of those protesters were college students, who were not thugs or professional protesters or coordinated by the Bernie Sanders campaign as Trump and his supporters claimed.

Trump and his supporters have every right to meet and build enthusiasm for his campaign — just as Trump again called Common Core and the Affordable Care Act "a disaster'' on Monday without offering any plan to replace them. He can recite his farcical pledge to build a wall along the border and have his supporters shout "Mexico!" when he asks who will pay for it. He can make fun of "Little Marco" Rubio and the Florida senator's robotic debate responses. But his efforts to ridicule protesters and suggest they should be roughly handled incites violence and inflames the us-versus-them narrative that forms the foundation of his campaign.

Against that backdrop, it is discouraging that Attorney General Pam Bondi endorsed Trump on Monday. The state's top legal officer — the first woman to be elected attorney general in Florida — now supports a presidential candidate who has insulted women, Hispanics, blacks and the disabled. Perhaps it was predictable, given that Bondi declined to join New York's investigation of Trump University after Trump's foundation in 2013 contributed $25,000 to a political fundraising committee backing Bondi's re-election. She has once again diminished the public office she holds and stained her own reputation in pursuit of the spotlight.

More than 2 million Floridians already have voted, and more than half of them are Republicans. The field has narrowed in ways that no one would have predicted even a few months ago. Former Gov. Jeb Bush has dropped out. Rubio badly trails Trump, and his campaign is on life support. The best hope of slowing the demagogue who has fractured the Republican Party appears not to be Florida but Ohio, where Gov. John Kasich and Trump are locked in a tight contest.

Florida Democrats and Republicans who have yet to vote still should go to the polls today. For the Democrats, Hillary Clinton could use a decisive win over Sanders. And Republicans should send a message that Trump's campaign needs a significant course correction to stop pitting Americans against each other.


 CLAY BENNETT  |  Chattanooga Times Free Press
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