Trump Praises Police Crackdowns on Campus Protests

Trump Praises Police Crackdowns on Campus Protests

In his first campaign rally 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 evidence that they were hired and paid 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 then 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.”

Mr. Trump and fellow Republicans have seized on the demonstrations as a wedge issue that they hope can foment discontent among President Biden’s Democratic base while also reinforcing Mr. Trump’s frequent contention that Mr. Biden is a weak leader who is steering the country into chaos.

In the past week, Mr. Trump has also 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 after 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 was being too lenient with the protesters, comparing them to his supporters who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, in a bid to overturn his 2020 election loss.

Wednesday’s rally was Mr. Trump’s first significant return to the campaign trail since the start of his criminal trial in New York on April 15, in which Mr. Trump is accused of falsifying business records to cover up a sex scandal. After his stop in Waukesha, he flew to a second rally in Michigan.

“I’ve got to do two of these things a day,” Mr. Trump told a crowd in Freeland, Mich. “You know why? Because I’m in New York.”

Mr. Trump, who on Tuesday was held in contempt and fined $9,000 for violating a gag order in his trial, stuck to his typical complaints about the case: that it was a sham and that it was impossible for him to get a fair trial in deep-blue Manhattan.

“I have a crooked judge. He’s a totally conflicted judge,” Mr. Trump said. “And, you know, it’s, unfortunately, it’s a 95 percent or so Democrat area.”

Still, in the weeks since his trial started, Mr. Trump has 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.

His energetic demeanor in Wisconsin stood in stark contrast from the stern speeches he has given in the hallway outside the courtroom, and from reports in court that depict him as dour, glowering or, at times, asleep.

But Mr. Trump’s dark 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 1864 ban, Mr. Trump largely kept his focus elsewhere. But he defended his position in a digression that he said was unscripted, 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 for strict six-week bans.

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

For much of his speech, 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 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 that flipped to Mr. Biden in 2020.

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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