One night after declining to criticize Donald Trump's rhetoric toward the protesters at his rallies, his rivals for the Republican nomination, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) and Gov. John Kasich (R-Ohio), all criticized the Republican front-runner.
Rubio, who is camped out in his home state in advance of the March 15 primary, told Megyn Kelly of Fox News that Trump was finding out that his "words have real consequences." But roughly half of Rubio's analysis was a criticism of the political left. After stating his appreciation for Chicago's police, Rubio said that the protests needed to be put in context.
"This is Chicago, protesters are an industry," he said. "It is clear, just from watching some of these images, that this was an organized effort, an orchestrated effort, from groups that wanted to disrupt this event, and Chicago is a hub for that sort of activity. I would also say that people have a right, whether you disagree with someone or what he’s about to say – and I certainly disagree with Donald Trump on many things, it’s why I’m running against him for president – you don’t have a right to take away the First Amendment right of people to speak freely. I think you’ve seen some of this on college campuses recently. There was an article, not long ago I think, that [conservative commentator] Ben Shapiro tried to speak on a campus, and they basically shut him down. So I think this is crossing over into the broader society, and it’s problematic."
With that said, Rubio criticized Trump for his well-documented mockery of the people who interrupted his rallies.
"I wouldn’t say Mr. Trump is responsible for the events of tonight," said Rubio, "but he is most certainly, in other events, has in the past used some pretty rough language, saying in the good old days we used to beat these people up, or I’ll pay your legal bills if you rough them up. So I think he bears some responsibility for the general tone."
As Rubio was wrapping up, Cruz was standing outside a dinner event in Rolling Meadows, Ill., for an impromptu press conference. He took a harsher tone, significantly stepping up what he'd said to radio host Hugh Hewitt earlier that night.
"The responsibility for that lies with protesters, who took violence into their own hands. But in any campaign, responsibility starts at the top. Any candidate is responsible for the culture of a campaign. And when you have a campaign that disrespects the voters, when you have a campaign that affirmatively encourages violence, when you have a campaign that is facing allegations of physical violence against members of the press, you create an environment that only encourages this sort of nasty discord," Cruz said, citing an event in Florida that had already led to a criminal complaint, but not heretofore been mentioned by a rival candidate.
"It is my hope that going forward we will have a substantive, issue-based discussion, where we can have differences about how we turn this country around, that we do so in a way that appeals to our better angels instead of our worst instincts," Cruz continued. "That seeks to pull us together, and unite us, instead of tear us apart. You know, we've seen for seven years a president who often at times of crisis, has sought to divide us, sought to divide us on ethnic lines, on religious lines, on class lines. America’s better than this. We don’t have to tear each other apart."
Asked if Trump should have gone ahead with the rally, Cruz paused for a moment, then said the decision should have been based on public safety.
"But I think a campaign bears responsibility for creating an environment when the candidate urges supporters to engage in physical violence, to punch people in the face," said Cruz. "The predictable consequence of that is that it escalates, and today is unlikely to be the last such instance. We saw, earlier today, in St. Louis, over 30 arrested. That’s not how our politics should occur. You know, the city of Chicago in 1968 saw some ugly days, when politics descended into hatred and incivility and even violence. It is my hope that in 2016 we can appeal to our better angels, to avoid going down that road once again."
Cruz found some levity only when he was asked if Trump's policies might have inspired the protests. Some of the activists captured by news cameras carried signs referencing Trump's proposed ban on Muslim entries to the United States, or his comment that Mexico was letting "rapists" cross the border.
"At the end of the day, finding Donald Trump's policies is a difficult endeavor," said Cruz.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich, whose scheduled MSNBC town hall was pre-empted by the Chicago chaos, issued a statement late Friday night that pinned the blame on Trump himself.
"Tonight the seeds of division that Donald Trump has been sowing this whole campaign finally bore fruit, and it was ugly," said Kasich. "Some let their opposition to his views slip beyond protest into violence, but we can never let that happen. I urge people to resist that temptation and rise to a higher level. Now is the time for Americans to come together and stand firm for what we know is true: we are great because we are a peaceful people who live by the rule of law. We are stronger together, we will reject those who try to divide us for personal gain and we will do it the right way—at the ballot box."