Trump, Who Has Celebrated Violent Protests, Cheers Campus Crackdowns


Let’s start today’s newsletter with a brief news quiz.

Who said this, in reference to the clearing of protests on Columbia University’s campus last week?

“The police came in. In exactly two hours, everything was over. It was a beautiful thing to watch.”

And who said this, in reference to the attempted insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021?

“It was a beautiful day.”

The answer in both cases, of course, is former President Donald Trump, who is wielding self-serving and frequently inaccurate stories about both events as tools in his presidential campaign. He has denounced the campus protests as lawless chaos even as he depicts the Jan. 6 rioters as heroes — and appears to be trying to play one episode off the other as he seeks to sanitize his own record as president.

As he has moved in and out of his New York criminal trial and hit the campaign trail in recent weeks, Trump has tried to turn the college protests of the war in Gaza to his political benefit. He has praised the arrests of protesters, and suggested in an interview with Time magazine that he would call in the National Guard to quell protests if they were happening on his watch.

“Columbia just canceled their commencement,” Trump said Monday at the courthouse in Manhattan where he is on trial. “That shouldn’t happen.”

Trump, who frequently uses violent rhetoric — including suggesting there would be “bedlam” and “potential death and destruction” if various criminal proceedings against him moved forward — is seeking to depict President Biden as a hapless leader who cannot get the protests under control.

But Trump’s calls for order contrast sharply with the way he talks about Jan. 6, a day that saw brutal violence against police officers, which he has nonetheless turned into a talking point of his third campaign for the presidency.

He has rallied to the side of rioters arrested that day, lamented the time some have spent in jail, called them “hostages” and “unbelievable patriots,” and said he would consider pardoning them if he returns to power.

Now he is comparing the punishments meted out to the Jan. 6 rioters with those faced by college protesters, though the two events are fundamentally different.

“They took over a building. That is a big deal,” Trump said last week, referring to the Columbia protesters, wondering if their punishment would be “anything comparable” to that of the mob that broke into the Capitol on Jan. 6.

As the Biden campaign seeks to make Jan. 6 a key plank of its case against Trump, the bubbling up of protests on campuses nationwide — and the images they have generated of clashes between protesters and counterprotesters as well as mass arrests — has made some Democrats nervous.

“How do the Democrats, how do all of us on that side, say Jan. 6 was wrong?” the Rev. Al Sharpton said on MSNBC, making comments that were quickly picked up by Fox News. “If you can have the same pictures going on college campuses, you lose the moral, you lose the moral high ground.”

But many other Democrats have been quick to say the campus protests have little in common with Jan. 6.

“What happened on Jan. 6 is a violent mob. They came and attacked the Capitol Police, they came and attacked the Capitol, it was an assault on democracy,” said Harry Dunn, a former Capitol Police officer who was at the Capitol that day. He later testified about seeing fellow officers bloodied as they fought with rioters, and about having racist slurs lobbed his way.

Dunn, who is now running for the Democratic nomination for a congressional seat in Maryland, said in an interview that members of his party needed to be clear about what happened that day — especially in response to Trump’s efforts to distort the facts.

“People are really upset about what happened, and they have a real fear about whether it can happen again,” he said.

Some Democrats are alarmed about Trump’s rhetoric, and warn that it gives his supporters a dangerous permission structure.

“Donald Trump sends a message that his supporters can break the law and commit violence whenever they’re following his cues,” said Representative Jamie Raskin of Maryland, a Democrat who was the lead manager of the unsuccessful impeachment of Trump over the events of Jan. 6 and was part of the monthslong investigation of the day’s events by a select committee in the House.

Some Republicans have struggled to defend the inconsistencies of calling for the prosecution of the college campus protesters while defending those accused of breaking the law on Jan. 6.

That includes Senator J.D. Vance of Ohio, a Trump ally and vice-presidential contender who was asked by Kaitlan Collins of CNN last week whether people who break in and vandalize a building should be prosecuted.

“Exactly,” Vance said, before Collins followed up by asking why he had raised money for some of the Jan. 6 defendants.

Vance accused the national media of having an “obsession” with Jan. 6, and said some of the people who had protested on Jan. 6 had the “complete weight of the Justice Department thrown at them when at worst they’re accused of misdemeanors.”

Over the weekend, some of Trump’s Republican congressional allies sought to depict the college protests as a factor that would help him in the November election.

“One of the many reasons why Donald Trump is going to win this election is you’ve got Democratic protesters out there putting a terrorist headdress on a statue of George Washington,” Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas said Sunday on ABC, apparently referring to how a protester draped a kaffiyeh over a statue of the first president at George Washington University.

“Everything in America is in chaos, from our border to our campuses,” said Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, who is also a potential Trump running mate.

It’s not clear that the strategy will work. In 2020, Trump sought to pin racial justice protests, which sometimes turned violent and led to the destruction of property, on Biden and Democratic mayors — but he still lost.

In addition to trying to use the campus protests to complain about the treatment of the Jan. 6 defendants, he also compared the demonstrations to the violence of Charlottesville, Va., in 2017, when white supremacists marched yelling antisemitic slurs and, later, a woman was killed when a car plowed into a crowd of counterprotesters.

“Charlottesville is like a ‘peanut’ compared to the riots and anti-Israel protests that are happening all over our country RIGHT NOW,” Trump wrote on his social media platform, Truth Social, late last month.

His rhetoric may be as much about cleaning up his own record as it is about attacking Biden’s.

The criminal trial in which Trump is accused of covering up a sex scandal to protect his 2016 presidential campaign has been speeding along inside a Manhattan courtroom. As prosecutors have laid out their case, Trump has been threatened with jail, watched a longtime former employee testify against him and heard secretly recorded audio played in court.

Here are three key trial developments you might have missed:

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