TUCSON, ARIZONA/WASHINGTON – Donald Trump’s campaign in Arizona is centered on his hard line against illegal immigration, a stand that supporters embraced in a series of tense rallies ahead of Tuesday’s presidential primary in the border state.
“Illegal immigration is gonna stop,” Trump said Saturday night in Tucson. “It’s dangerous,” he said. “Terrible.”
Both in Phoenix and Tucson, Trump was introduced by former Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, who pushed tough immigration laws in office, and Joe Arpaio, the Maricopa County sheriff who made his name by chasing down people who are in the country illegally. The county includes Phoenix and nearly two-thirds of Arizona’s population.
Protesters showed up at every event. In Phoenix, they blocked the main road into his outdoor rally for several hours before it started. In Tucson, they interrupted him and some were tossed from the event.
Police said Sunday that about half a dozen people were arrested at the Arizona rallies, including two on misdemeanor charges of assault. It was not clear how many were protesters or Trump supporters.
Trump was campaigning in Arizona ahead of Tuesday’s primary in which the winner will take all 58 delegates at stake.
Trump’s main rivals, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Ohio Gov. John Kasich, are desperately trying to prevent the real estate mogul from accumulating the 1,237 delegates needed to secure the nomination at the party’s national convention in July. They are hoping for a contested convention in which delegates would be free to turn from Trump if he fails to win a majority on the first ballot. Trump has won 678 delegates in contests held thus far, according to a count by The Associated Press. Cruz is in second place with 423 delegates, and Kasich is in third with 143.
His rivals hope to offset a likely Trump win in Arizona on Tuesday with a strong showing in the Utah caucuses. Limited polling shows Cruz leading in the state where Mormons account for two-thirds of the state’s 3 million residents. Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee and the Mormon faith’s most visible member, said he intends to vote for Cruz in the caucuses, but stopped short of endorsing the Texas senator, an uncompromising conservative.
However, Utah’s delegates will be distributed proportionally based on the percentage of votes — unless a candidate gets more than 50 percent, which would give that person all 40 delegates.
In Arizona, Trump treated the latest protests with a mix of pacifist rhetoric and a mocking tone. “We love our protesters, don’t we?” he asked. As security removed one or more, he said: “We want to do it with love,” then added bitingly, “Get ’em outta here.”
In Tucson, one protester carried a sign with an image of a Confederate flag over an image of Trump; another wore a Ku Klux Klan-style white sheet.. A man in the crowd attacked the protester with the Confederate sign, kicking and punching him before being arrested. The protesters were led out by security.
“It was a tough thing to watch,” Trump said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week,” adding, “But why would a protester walk into a room with a Ku Klux Klan outfit on?”
Trump made clear, though, “We don’t condone violence.”
The chairman of the Republican National Committee, Reince Priebus, told ABC television that “as far as everyone getting involved in the crowds, leave it to the professionals” in law enforcement.
As the rally attendees later streamed out of the hall, protesters hurled two water bottles at them and called them racists.
Arizona Democrats also vote on Tuesday, and contender Bernie Sanders campaigned Saturday at the U.S.-Mexico border in Nogales.
Standing in front of a tall, steel fence that divides the two countries, the Vermont senator promised to keep immigrant families together by taking more steps than President Barack Obama has done to protect many from deportation. Sanders called Arpaio a bully and he bemoaned the “divisive, bigoted and xenophobic comments of people like Donald Trump.”
Late Saturday he held his fourth Arizona rally in the past five days, this time just outside of downtown Phoenix. Sanders is hoping for a win in Tuesday’s Arizona primary to propel him through the next month when several states more favorable for him are due to vote.
Sanders is looking to rebound from his defeat last Tuesday in five state contests to Hillary Clinton, which gave the former secretary of state a nearly insurmountable lead of more than 300 pledged delegates.
Clinton planned rallies in Arizona on Monday.
Earlier Saturday, tempers flared at Trump’s large gathering in Phoenix, but without the violence that marred his event in Chicago a week before that ended up being canceled.
For hours, about two dozen protesters parked their cars in the middle of the main road to the event, unfurling banners reading “Dump Trump” and “Must Stop Trump,” and chanting “Trump is hate.” Traffic was backed up for miles, with drivers honking in fury.
The road was eventually cleared and protesters marched down the highway to the rally site, weaving between Trump supporters who booed and jeered them.
Trump supporter Geroy Morgan, 62, made it to the rally but was furious at the demonstrators, some of whom still stood around after the event ended.
“We come here, the silent majority, to express our opinions,” Morgan said. “They don’t have any permits or rights.”
Trump meanwhile said that “professional agitators” bore much of the blame for violence at his rallies as video showed a protester being beaten and another apparently being grabbed by Trump’s campaign manager.
Speaking on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday, Trump defended campaign manager Corey Lewandowski and declined to condemn supporters who have attacked protesters at his increasingly chaotic rallies.
Nor did he back down from his warning that there would be riots in the streets if the Republican Party denied him the nomination for the November election, despite his being the most popular candidate among Republican voters.
Senior figures in the party are openly plotting to prevent Trump from becoming the nominee because they view him as insufficiently conservative, and Trump was due to privately meet with some party leaders in Washington on Monday, the Washington Post reported.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I will say this, you’re going to have a lot of unhappy people,” he said on “This Week,” predicting anger at the party’s national convention in July should someone else end up the nominee. “I don’t want to see riots, I don’t want to see problems. But you’re talking about millions of people.”
Scenes of mayhem have become increasingly common at the billionaire New York businessman’s rallies, which have been frequently interrupted by protesters, many of them Democrats, who say Trump’s controversial remarks on immigrants and Muslims are dangerous. The 69-year-old candidate has sometimes encouraged his supporters using violence on protesters, and on at least one occasion said that he would like to punch a protester himself.
Television footage from an Arizona rally on Saturday showed a man punching and kicking a protester as he was led out of the event. Another video appeared to show Lewandowski grabbing a protester by the back of his shirt.
Trump declined to condemn the violence and said it was often provoked by protesters, who briefly blocked a highway leading to an Arizona rally on Saturday.
“These people are very disruptive people. They’re not innocent lambs,” he said.
He also defended Lewandowski and said a security official had actually grabbed the protester. Lewandowski also manhandled a reporter last week, according to the Washington Post.
“I give him credit for having spirit,” Trump said of Lewandowski.
Republican leaders said Trump needs to more clearly discourage his supporters from engaging in violence.
“All of the candidates for president ought to be discouraging that kind of activity, because people in the audience tend to listen to those who are speaking,” Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said on ABC.
About two dozen senior Republican figures will meet with Trump at a law firm near the Capitol on Monday afternoon in what the Trump campaign described as an effort to improve “party unity,” the Washington Post reported. The newspaper did not say who would be attending, but McConnell said he would not be in the city that day.