Opinion: Trump the victim emerges from canceled rally


By Eric Zorn, Chicago Tribune

The news flash out of Chicago on Friday evening amounted to “Protesters shut down Trump rally.”

That wasn’t quite true, of course. Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump shut down his own campaign event shortly after it was scheduled to have begun at the University of Illinois at Chicago Pavilion. Trump cited concerns about the combustible mixture of supporters and opponents inside the arena.

Either way, protesters were elated. Their chants went up: “We stopped Trump!” “Who won? We won!” “Na-na-na-na, na-na-na-na, hey, hey, goodbye!” They’d planned merely to disrupt the rally with persistent heckling. Pre-emption felt like the ultimate victory, a successful stand against Trump’s nativist authoritarian claptrap.


And Trump supporters were angry. Some had traveled hundreds of miles and taken a day off work to hear the candidate speak, and they blamed radical lefties for denying them the right to hear him and for denying him the right to speak.

Never mind the views of those present, though. The real issue is how this news, those headlines, played to undecided or wavering Republicans who have yet to vote in the primaries and caucuses that will play a key, if not decisive, role in the party’s nominating process.

Will they see the skirmishes and ever-present threat of violence at Trump rallies as evidence that he’s too polarizing to prevail in November’s general election? Will they therefore drift away from him toward rivals whose presentation is more civilized?

Or will they see the fury on the left as evidence that Trump is daring to tell uncomfortable truths? Will their contempt for the protesters who muzzled Trump inspire base GOP voters to support him, if only in defiance?

We’ll know a great deal more after results from Illinois and four other states come in Tuesday night, but I fear the latter.

And I suspect this was exactly what Team Trump intended.

A rally for Donald Trump at UIC? Come on! His campaign may be a bit improvisational, but no one’s advance team is that bad. UIC is a diverse, easily accessible campus in the heart of a multi-ethnic Democratic city, and event organizers made no apparent effort to limit arena access to Trump supporters.


There was no way such a rally wasn’t going to draw thousands of protesters, and no way Trump would be able to speak without nearly continual defiant interruptions from the crowd.

No way, in other words, that Trump wouldn’t look to many Republicans like a victim of the intolerant, repressive left. No way that the inevitable wall-to-wall national cable coverage wouldn’t make him look like a martyr for free speech.

No way unless …

… unless his furious supporters instigated attacks such as the one Wednesday in Fayetteville, N.C., in which a Trump backer sucker-punched an African-American protester as police led him from a rally. Unless a veritable soccer riot broke out in which someone was seriously injured or killed.

We’ll have to wait for the publication of tell-all campaign books to learn exactly when and why Trump decided not to take the stage Friday, but I wouldn’t be surprised if a last-minute cancellation was part of his plan all along: minimal risk of violence, maximum opportunity to play the victim card.

“The organized group of people, many of them thugs, who shut down our First Amendment rights in Chicago, have totally energized America!” Trump tweeted the following morning.

Well, no, the First Amendment had nothing to do with it. The First Amendment merely guards against government censorship, and the government here — a public university and city police department — were more than cooperative with Trump’s alleged plans to speak.

But even some of us who are repulsed by Trump’s rhetoric — which ironically includes the hope that First Amendment press freedoms can be curtailed by broadening libel laws, and First Amendment religious freedoms can be shattered by excluding Muslims — were left feeling uneasy at the idea, trumpeted by gleeful progressives all weekend on social media, that shouting someone down or simply threatening to shout someone down until he gives up trying to speak is a legitimate counter-exercise of the right to free expression.

I may be giving the man too much credit, but it looks to me as though Friday played out according to Trump’s plan.

Whether it was a good plan or not, we’ll find out soon enough.


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