Trump Praises Police Crackdowns on Campus Protests


Holding his first campaign rallies since his criminal trial in Manhattan began, former President Donald J. Trump on Wednesday urged college presidents to take a tougher approach to protests over the war in Gaza that have swept across campuses and praised police action at the demonstrations.

Calling protesters “raging lunatics” and suggesting without any evidence that they were hired by liberal groups to draw attention away from the surge of migrants at the border, Mr. Trump commended New York City police officers who, in riot gear, arrested dozens of pro-Palestinian demonstrators at Columbia University and cleared a building that they had occupied.

Speaking to supporters in Waukesha, Wis., Mr. Trump called for similar actions at universities across the country.

“To every college president, I say remove the encampments immediately,” he said. “Vanquish the locals and take back our campuses for all of the normal students.”

Both in Wisconsin and at a later rally in Freeland, Mich., Mr. Trump promoted a strong a law-and-order message, even as he contends with a criminal case in New York in which he is accused of falsifying business records to cover up a sex scandal.

Mr. Trump, who on Tuesday was held in contempt and fined $9,000 for violating a gag order in the trial that bars him from attacking witnesses and jurors, criticized the order. He laid into the judge who fined him, calling him “crooked” and “conflicted” at both rallies.

“I have a judge who gags me,” Mr. Trump said. “I’m not allowed to talk about things. And nobody’s seen anything quite like it.”

And he reiterated his typical complaints about the criminal case: that it is a sham, that it is impossible for him to get a fair trial in deep-blue Manhattan and that the whole ordeal amounts to political persecution by President Biden — a claim made without a shred of evidence but that has helped him bolster support among his base.

“What you’re witnessing in New York is not a legal proceeding — it’s an unlawful exercise in very stupid and very evil politics,” he said.

As Mr. Trump is tied down in court proceedings, he and Republicans have seized on the campus demonstrations as a wedge issue. They hope to foment discontent among Mr. Biden’s Democratic base over his handling of Israel, while also pointing to the protests to support Mr. Trump’s frequent contention that Mr. Biden is a weak leader.

In the past week, Mr. Trump has also used the protests to diminish violent episodes involving right-wing extremists that took place during his presidency. He tried to downplay the deadly white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., in 2017, by calling it “peanuts” compared with the campus protests. One woman was killed and nearly 40 people were injured when a neo-Nazi plowed his car through a crowd of counterprotesters in Charlottesville.

And building on his bid to portray federal prosecutors as politically motivated, Mr. Trump suggested the government would be lenient with the protesters, comparing them to supporters who he has said were treated harshly after they stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, in a bid to overturn his 2020 election loss.

Though he has made small campaign stops in New York City, Mr. Trump has in the weeks since his trial started been visible more as a criminal defendant than as a political candidate. A planned rally in North Carolina last month was canceled at the last minute because of weather.

“I’ve got to do two of these things a day,” Mr. Trump told the crowd in Michigan. “You know why? Because I’m in New York all the time with the Biden trial.”

Mr. Trump’s energetic demeanor at Wednesday’s rallies stood in stark contrast to the stern speeches he has given in the hallway outside the courtroom, and to reports from the court that depict him as dour, glowering or, at times, asleep. He bantered lightly with members of the crowd in both states and repeatedly expressed pride at the size of his crowds.

But Mr. Trump’s dark, and sometimes coarse, campaign message has changed little. He again argued that Mr. Biden’s leadership was steering the country toward doomsday and stoked fears about immigration, accusing Democrats of creating “mayhem” at the border. He also repeated unsubstantiated claims that Democrats were encouraging migration in order to register undocumented immigrants to vote.

On a day when abortion was in the spotlight again, with Florida’s six-week ban taking effect and Arizona lawmakers repealing their state’s 1864 ban, Mr. Trump largely kept his focus elsewhere. But he defended his position in an effort to neutralize an issue that Democrats hope to make central in 2024.

Mr. Trump has tried a balancing act on the issue, arguing that all abortion rights should be left to the states even as he has voiced opposition toward strict six-week bans. And he stressed the need to consider the political implications of calling for further abortion restrictions as Republicans try to win in November, saying in Michigan that “a lot of bad things will happen beyond the abortion issue, if you don’t win elections.”

In Wisconsin, he presented his views as a kind of compromise. “Some people will be very happy,” he said. “Some people won’t be as happy. But time will make this.”

Still, in Michigan, he praised the conservative justices who had overturned Roe v. Wade, singling them each out by name. His remarks there came shortly after Vice President Kamala Harris visited Florida, where she called the state’s new restrictions “another Trump abortion ban,” part of a larger effort by Democrats to tie Mr. Trump to strict limits on the procedure.

At both rallies, Mr. Trump also railed against Mr. Biden’s handling of the economy, arguing that the president’s economic policies were hurting the middle class and that Mr. Biden had not done enough to fight inflation.

Both parties are focused intently on winning Michigan and Wisconsin, two battleground states that were critical to Mr. Trump’s 2016 victory but flipped to Mr. Biden in 2020. Mr. Trump visited both states last month, shortly before his New York criminal trial began.

The Republican National Committee is holding its 2024 convention in Milwaukee, which Mr. Trump acknowledged in nearby Waukesha. “That means you’ve got to vote for us, because we’re spending our money in your state to have the big convention,” he said.

The two states were also central in Mr. Trump’s efforts to overturn his 2020 election loss. Last week, he was named as an unindicted co-conspirator in an investigation by the Michigan attorney general’s office into efforts he and his allies took to subvert Mr. Biden’s victory in the state. So far, 15 Republicans who acted as fake electors have been charged.



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