Donald Trump is lucky in his enemies.
Every time leftist protesters disrupt one of his events or stage a riot outside, he benefits. They aren’t on the Trump payroll, but they might as well be. The protests are catnip to cable TV — as if Trump needed any more free media attention — and provide the perfect framing for Trump’s message that only he has the strength to defy the forces of chaos and political correctness.
At California campaign stops last week, anti-Trump protesters blocked a freeway entrance, stomped on and tried to overturn a police car, threw rocks at passing vehicles and bloodied a Trump supporter. They tried to shut down the California GOP convention where Trump spoke (he had to enter the hotel through a back entrance). And some of them were waving Mexican flags. In other words, they could have been cast in a Trump reality show about his own campaign.
These kind of protests are quickly becoming accepted as part of the scenery, but they are a noxious breach of our political norms. There is never an excuse for violence, and attempting to shut down an event because you disagree with things that are being said there is speech suppression worthy of Brown University or Oberlin College.
The anti-Trump protests get media coverage, but not wall-to-wall outrage, since the left tends to get a free pass for its lawlessness (it is always presumed to be in the cause of truth and justice). Imagine if inflamed conservatives were constantly interrupting Bernie Sanders rallies and trying to obstruct his events. A thousand cable debates and op-eds would be devoted to dissecting the dangerous thuggery of the right.
Whatever you think of their tactics, the anti-Trump protesters are dancing to his tune. Trump is not a candidate of freedom, but of order. Every time he is seen as standing up to a mob, it enhances and cements his brand with his supporters. Especially when that mob is waving the flag of a foreign country. It allows him to pose as the protector of the community, as a champion of free speech, as a man too courageous to back down from telling truths that the other side doesn’t want to hear.
Politics as it is conventionally practiced involves smoothing over rough edges and emphasizing unity. Trump does it differently. He has gotten to the cusp of the Republican nomination with a genius for raw, emotive spectacle (made more spectacular by the telegenic disruptions of protesters). He is unapologetically divisive. He has realized from the beginning that by angering and outraging all the people who will never support him (at least not now), he could earn the undying loyalty of a critical mass of people who will always support him.
The cliche is that politics is a game of addition. For Trump, the computation is a little more complicated — the addition would be impossible without subtraction. If he weren’t so hated, he wouldn’t be so loved.
He has gone out of his way to create a charged atmosphere around his candidacy. He has — appallingly — egged on his supporters to punch protesters, and threatened violence at the Republican convention if he doesn’t get his way. His occasional pledges to become more presidential presumably involve toning down the belligerency, but it’s not clear if he is really inclined to dial it back, and even if he is, all that has transpired over the past year won’t be forgotten. He will continue to be a radioactive figure and draw protesters seeking to shut him down or, failing that, create an aura of discrediting chaos around his candidacy.
In 2008, then-candidate Barack Obama was dubbed “no-drama Obama.” Trump, so far, has been drama all the time. If he is the nominee, it will be a long, hot summer — and fall.
Rich Lowry can be reached via e-mail: email@example.com.