Donald Trump said he wanted to punch a protester “in the face” after the man disrupted a campaign rally in Las Vegas on Monday night.

“Here’s a guy, throwing punches, nasty as hell, screaming at everything else, when we’re talking,” Trump told the crowd, although CNN reported the man did not appear to be fighting with security officers.

“The guards are very gentle with him. He’s walking out, like, big high-fives, smiling, laughing,” Trump continued, before saying to loud cheers: “I’d like to punch him in the face, I tell ya.”

The incident was the latest in a string of controversial comments by Trump regarding protesters at his rallies. In November, after a Black Lives Matter protester was beaten and choked after disrupting a rally, Trump appeared to condone the rough treatment.

“Maybe he should have been roughed up, because it was absolutely disgusting what he was doing,” he said on Fox News at the time.

On Monday night, the politician connected his desire to punch the protester with both the good, “old days” in America and the country’s more aggressive foreign policy under a President Trump.

“Look, see, he’s smiling. See, he’s having a good time,” Trump said of the protester. “You know what I hate? There’s a guy, totally disruptive, throwing punches, we’re not allowed to punch back anymore. I love the old days. You know what they used to do to guys like that when they were in a place like this? They’d be carried out on a stretcher, folks.”

After saying that he’d like to punch the protester in the face, Trump segued into an attack on one of his main rivals, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.)

“It brings up something,” Trump said. “Two debates ago, they hit Ted Cruz with a question. … They hit him with a question on waterboarding. They said: ‘What do you think of waterboarding? Is it good?’ And he got all messed up. He couldn’t answer the question. He was a mess, because he didn’t want to say waterboarding was good.

“Now, waterboarding — nothing is pretty –but they are chopping off heads, they are drowning people in steel cages … and they are saying to themselves, ‘Can you believe how weak, how weak and pathetic the Americans are?'” Trump said in a reference to the Islamic State, which has released videos showing the group’s beheading and drowning of prisoners.

“So they are asking Ted Cruz, ‘What do you think of waterboarding?'” Trump continued, breaking into an impression of Cruz. “‘Well, uh, um, uh, what do I say? I want to be politically correct. Waterboarding is so terrible,’ even though they are chopping off heads. He couldn’t even answer the question. He was like a mess.

“Then they said to me, ‘What do you think of waterboarding?'” Trump said. “I said I think it’s great, but we don’t go far enough.”

To that, the crowd broke out into cheers and chants of “USA,USA.”

“It’s true. We don’t go far enough,” Trump said. “We don’t go far enough.”

“Now the press will write tomorrow that Trump is a mean guy,” he said. “I’m not a mean guy. I’m just a guy who doesn’t want to be pushed around by a bunch of animals.”

Trump was speaking ahead of Nevada’s Republican caucuses Tuesday. A poll released last week showed Trump in command in the state, with 45 percent support compared with 19 percent for Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and 17 percent for Cruz.

Hot off the heels of a South Carolina victory, Donald Trump is casting a long shadow over the GOP party. Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz are battling hard to emerge as a candidate who can defeat Trump heading into the Nevada caucus and Super Tuesday. (Alice Li/The Washington Post)

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