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The US presidential primaries campaign moved into new gear over the weekend as mass protests began at Donald Trump rallies, with protesters being pepper-sprayed in Kansas City, and the abandonment of a rally in Chicago by order of Trump himself. On Saturday, a protester charged the stage and Trump squealed like a small kid, before being surrounded by secret service agents.

The protests were an escalation of sporadic and small protests at earlier Trump rallies, largely but not exclusively staged by Black Lives Matter and Latino protesters. Last week, one such black protester was punched while being led out of the arena.

The puncher, a 78-year-old dude in a gunslinger moustache, then turned to a phone camera and said, “If he comes back again, we might have to kill him.” He has since been charged with assault. The subsequent rally in Chicago was attended by dozens of protesters. Prior to any large scale protest, Trump ordered the rally cancelled — which then led to confrontation between Trump supporters and protesters, carried live on national TV.

From the start there was suspicion that Trump had cancelled not for public safety reasons but in order to avoid the confrontation with protesters en masse, and to create a confrontation in absentia. Trump’s spokespeople claimed that they had suspended the rally on police advice. The Chicago police quickly clarified they had given no such order.

Some of the protesters were carrying Bernie Sanders signs, which led Trump to claim that the Sanders campaign was orchestrating the attacks — a charge Sanders denied. The violence came after weeks of rallies in which Trump had revved up his audience, saying that he’d like to punch protesters in the face, and have them “carried out on a stretcher”.

They capped off a wild and crazy few days, which began with Michelle Fields, a reporter from the right-wing Breitbart online magazine, being grabbed round the arm by Trump’s campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, and pulled away violently, after she tried to ask Trump a question while he was leaving a rally.

The Trump campaign then tried to lie its way out of the situation, claiming that Lewandowski wasn’t there, that Fields was a serial false accuser. Then a witness came forward; then an audio recording of the event; then video showing Lewandowski’s hand reaching for Fields’ arm; then Fields filed criminal charges against him.

By then, things had moved on, with Trump announcing that he had gained the endorsement of … whacky Ben Carson, who wandered out all somnolent at a press conference on Friday, to urge a vote for a man who had compared him to a child molester. Had Trump apologised? “Well … that was just politics,” said the renowned neurosurgeon who had come up from poverty to become a pioneering doctor.

“There are two Donald Trumps,” Carson said, and one of them was cerebral and thoughtful. Trump later agreed with this for five minutes, before retracting his agreement. Carson thus joined Chris Christie, as one of Trump’s tame dupes — to be little used, simply claimed as a scalp.

The Trump campaign’s relationship with the truth got wider and wider over the weekend. He denied flat out that any assault on a reporter had occurred. He claimed that the stage charger had links to Islamic State. His son circulated a fake meme, which charged that a Trump supporter, photographed giving a Hitler salute, was actually a Sanders protester, under a false flag.

The other Republican candidates jumped on the events, and condemned Trump and his language, rather than the left-ish protesters. Possibly that was out of general decency or it may just possibly have been in an attempt to peel a few votes off before Super Tuesday part III, in which Ohio, Florida, Missouri and North Carolina go to the polls.

But it must be said that Marco Rubio’s condemnation went beyond that, in form and content. Rubio, exhausted, sounded genuinely depressed and despairing at what was happening at the head of his party. Would he still support Trump if he was the nominee? “I said I’d support the nominee, but it’s getting harder and harder …”

Trump wasn’t the only one getting into hot water on the weekend. Following Nancy Reagan’s funeral on Friday, another event that marked the end of an era yada yada. Hillary Clinton attended (what choice did she have?) while Bernie barnstormed three states. When she was asked for a pithy thought, she said that we should be grateful for the Reagans: “Because of both president and Mrs Reagan, in particular Mrs Reagan, we started a national conversation [about AIDS] when … nobody would talk about it.”

That was … there are no words. Or there weren’t any from Ronnie and Nancy, who did not speak of AIDS until seven years into his presidency. Four hours later, as untold thousands of progressives, LGBTI activists and community leaders howled in protest, Hillary issued a statement saying she had “misspoke”, occasioning wild hilarity: “Yeah, cos I often mean to say ‘I’ll have the salad’ and say ‘two notorious homophobes did a lot to fight AIDS’,” said one activist.

God knows what she was thinking. God knows. Who was this intended to appeal to? Reagan fans hate gays, and anyone who ever listened to a George Michael CD hates the Reagans. One can only guess that it was Hillary’s deep need to be part of the establishment coming out, the old Goldwater gal who doesn’t much like being lumped in with the grubby activists that Sanders represents.

Whatever the reason, it was a disaster for Hillary. Many prosperous LGBTI people are Clinton, rather than Sanders, supporters. She insulted their history, then she insulted everyone’s intelligence with her claim of “misspeaking”. It was a small matter on a weekend when Americans watched their leading conservative candidate gleefully celebrate violence, and the party appear to collapse altogether.

We have 48 hours to go until we see if Trump becomes the presumptive nominee. Or perhaps the race continues in real time, all the way to June …

Peter Fray

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