Donald Trump's unorthodox and confrontational crusade to "Make America Great Again" grabbed headlines over the weekend as fights broke out at rallies in key primary states.
One supporter flashed the Nazi salute, another raised a pro-KKK sign. Protesters, meanwhile, have been roughed up, expelled or arrested.
A particularly clamorous gathering in Illinois prompted Trump's security detail to jump onto the stage to surround him. That tense incident followed a cancelled rally the previous night due to large demonstrations outside the Chicago arena where the event was to be held.
The ugly episode of an earlier sucker-punching of a black man by a white Trump supporter in Fayetteville, N.C. was also dredged up: In the aftermath, the Republican frontrunner exclaimed that he would consider paying the legal fees of the man who threw the punch.
Trump responded to the flurry of combative incidents by telling Meet the Press' Chuck Todd on Sunday that "I don't accept responsibility, I don't condone violence," countering that his supporters are the victims of "disruptors."
"When they punch, it's O.K.," Trump added. "When my people punch back because they have to out of self-defense, everybody says, 'oh, isn't that terrible.' The fact is, we have very peaceful rallies."
The rallies have become an issue of themselves, much like the candidate. Trump's popularity is based in part on toughness, not giving in to Washington, or anyone. Same goes for his rallies. Of course, the businessman who has never held elective office, set the tone early in his campaign, evicting Univision anchor Jorge Ramos from an August press conference.
On days when Trump does capture the news cycle, which is most of the time, everything takes a back seat: a discussion about the health of the country's banks, the future of immigration, reforming an archaic tax code. This news-cycle dominance is widely thought to have contributed to Trump's success. Afterall, this is a candidate who spends almost no money on paid TV-advertising or a grassroots campaign staff.
Nonetheless, Trump is poised to take a giant leap forward on Tuesday when votes are cast in Florida, Illinois, North Carolina, Ohio and Missouri.
Heading into the week, Trump was leading in polls everywhere except Ohio, according to an aggregation of surveys conducted by RealClearPolitics. Ohio Governor John Kasich was leading in his home state, staking the future of his campaign on a victory there.
Already holding 460 delegates, Trump stands to take most of the 367 delegates at stake on Tuesday, all but ensuring that he can reach the 1,237 needed to win the nomination at the Republican convention in Cleveland in July. Whether the Republican leadership will allow that to happen could produce one of the wildest political events of our time.
As for Trump's would-be rivals, Ted Cruz currently holds second-place with 369 delegates, and Marco Rubio sits in third with 163. But Cruz's strongest states -- Texas, the South -- have already voted, and Rubio trails Trump in his home state of Florida. A loss there will likely force him from the race.
Cruz and Kasich joined Rubio in condemning Trump and his rallies with Rubio asserting that the former reality TV star had created "chaos" and "anarchy." But were their comments too little, too late? Rhetoric that encourages violence, insults hurled at the Pope, John McCain, Mexicans and Muslims, criticizing George W. Bush and mocking Mitt Romney -- nothing seems to stop the Trump.
Clinton Struggles to Take Control of the Race
Meanwhile, among the Democrats, Hillary Clinton would seem to be on her way to locking up the Democratic nomination. But her race with Bernie Sanders has tightened in Illinois and Ohio even as she holds comfortable leads in Florida and North Carolina.
It's clear by now that Hillary's deep bench of Washington operatives misjudged the sentiment on her party's left as well as Bernie Sanders' ability to campaign. The former secretary of state hardly improved her chances of winning over Sanders supporters when she complimented Ronald Reagan and his wife Nancy, who died last week, for their actions over the AIDS epidemic.
"And because of both President and Mrs. Reagan -- in particular, Mrs. Reagan -- we started a national conversation, when before nobody would talk about it," Clinton told MSNBC at Nancy's funeral in Simi Valley, Calif. "Nobody wanted anything to do with it."
The words rang hollow to those who remember that Reagan was infamously dismissive of the epidemic, withholding government funding and failing to even address the outbreak. Reagan showed anything but leadership on the AIDS crisis, wrote Michael Specter in The New Yorker.
"President Reagan's first speech on the subject wasn't until May 31, 1987," Specter said. "By then, more than twenty-five thousand people, the majority of them gay men, had died in the United States. His Administration ridiculed people with AIDS -- his spokesman, Larry Speakes, made jokes about them at press conferences."
But winning the presidential nomination isn't a question of sound bites. It's about which candidate can accumulate the necessary number of delegates needed to win their party's nomination. For the Democrats, that's 2,383. Clinton currently holds 766 to Sanders' 551. Clinton, though, has already received the support of 465 so-called Super Delegates; Sanders has 25 of these party insiders.
So, what are the chances that Clinton wins the nomination? David Plouffe, the former Obama campaign statistics guru, now an operative for Uber, told Politico recently that Clinton's odds of winning the Democratic Party nomination for president are 98%. Yes, he said, Sanders will win certain states (as he did in Michigan last week), but the schedule of primaries and their rules (Florida is winner-take-all whereas Michigan was proportional) continues to favor to Clinton.
"On March 15, if she sweeps those five states or does four of the five -- you know, again, I'm sure Bernie Sanders will go on to win some states, but the delegate race will be largely settled," Plouffe told Politico's Glenn Thrush in a Feb. 28 Politico podcast. "It is not about winning certain states or momentum, or winning the press cycle. It's about delegate acquisition."