Republican Party front runner Donald Trump, speaking on Sunday morning political programs, disavowed any responsibility for the increasing tensions at his political rallies which culminated in clashes between his supporters and protesters in Chicago that forced the presidential candidate to cancel a large rally there on Friday.
In an interview Sunday morning on NBC's Meet the Press, Trump directly denied having fomented violent acts against protesters at his rallies. Asked whether he takes any responsibility for the escalated tension that takes place at his rallies, he responded, "I think if anything, a lot of people have praised me for canceling the one rally....because we had disrupters out there. They weren't really protesters, they were disrupters, like professionals."
Speaking on This Week with George Stephanapoulos, Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders said Trump's claims he's organizing professional disrupters at Trump rallies is "totally untrue."
Had the rally gone on, Trump said there would have been "an awfully big riot."
Pressed on whether he was promoting violence toward protesters when he said at a previous rally, "I love the old days, you know what they used to do to guys like that when they were in a place like this in a place like this? They'd be carried out in a stretcher, folks. I'd like to punch in him the face, I tell you," Trump denied that his comments fostered a violent atmosphere. He attributed his supporters' anger and violence to a political system that has failed them, and to the protesters' disrespectful behavior.
After being presented with various video clips where Trump encouraged his supporters to use violence against protesters, he said, "I don't accept responsibility. I do not condone violence in any shape. And I will tell you from what I saw, the young man stuck his finger in the air, and the other man sort of just had it."
About two weeks after saying he'd like to punch the protester in the face, a Trump supporter has been charged for elbowing a protester in the head as he was being walked out of the stadium. The unprovoked attack, as well as Trump's calls to "knock the crap out of" protesters if they were throw tomatoes at Trump, with the presidential hopeful promising to pay legal fees for doing so-- circulated on social media ahead of the Chicago rally.
He wouldn't say whether he'd pay his North Carolina supporter's legal fees for attacking the protester. When pressed, Trump said, "Well, I'm not aware, I will tell you this, I do want to see what that young man was doing because he was very taunting, he was very loud, very disruptive and from what I understand he was sticking a certain finger up in the air and that is a terrible thing to do in front of somebody that, frankly, wants to see America made great again, and so we'll see, I want to take a look at it."
Trump said he instructed his people to look into the matter further.
Given the recent turn of events, Republican presidential candidates who once vowed to support Trump if he were to win their party's nomination are now reversing course.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fl.), asked whether he would hold fast on his promise to back Trump, said "I don't know, it's getting harder every day."
Ohio Governor John Kasich has also said Trump's rhetoric is making it difficult to back him, while Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tx.) speaking Sunday morning on This Week with George Stephanapoulos, said, "I think if Donald Trump is the nominee, I think it is a disaster. I think it's a disaster for Republicans, for conservatives; I think it's a disaster for the country and because if Donald is the nominee, it makes it much, much more likely that Hillary Clinton wins the general."