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March 3, 2016 7:33 am

Marco Takes Minnesota and Finally Confronts a Dangerous Donald Trump

avatar by Heather Robinson

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Presidential hopeful Marco Rubio. Photo: Gage Skidmore.

Presidential hopeful Marco Rubio. Photo: Gage Skidmore.

Marco Rubio won the Minnesota Republican caucus on Tuesday — his first win in a bruising evening and primary season.

For the past several days, Rubio has taken the fight to Donald Trump. In doing so, I believe that Rubio has taken on the mantle of leadership of the Republican Party. A few thoughts about this.

As a political independent and a journalist, I take seriously the obligation to keep an open mind and not slam candidates out of personal bias. That said, some of the things Donald Trump has said and done in recent days are downright alarming.

Donald Trump has called for a “revision of libel laws” in this country — a frightful thought in a nation that champions the concept and value of freedom of speech. This value is probably the feature that most distinguishes the United States of America from any other nation that has ever existed in the history of the world, and yet the man who wants to “make America great again” doesn’t seem to respect this seminal part of America’s core identity.

He has on numerous occasions issued veiled threats to reporters, and routinely maligns the press at his rallies (which is deeply ironic, since the media has helped facilitate Trump’s rise). He also drastically restricts the press at his rallies and has created an atmosphere in which violence against at least one reporter has occurred.

On Sunday, after a CNN reporter asked him three times to reject an endorsement from David Duke, a Ku Klux Klan leader and one of America’s leading antisemites, Trump declined to do so — then later blamed his failure on a malfunctioning earpiece.

At first I thought there was absolutely no way Trump could have possibly, knowingly declined to reject the support of a Ku Klux Klansman. It’s so incredibly outrageous and wicked that the natural response is to think that Trump must have misunderstood, or have been misunderstood.

Then, after Trump blamed his earpiece, I realized that the incident reminded me of other Trump denials: his abusive, sexist slur against Megyn Kelly (after which he denied that was what he meant) and his ridiculing of a disabled reporter (which he subsequently denied doing). He has a pattern of being boldly mean, even abusive, and then blatantly denying the obvious intent behind the behavior — and expecting everyone to give him a pass. And, time and time again, his supporters do.

As someone who knows and loves a few Trump supporters, I think they are attracted to other elements of his personality. Those elements include Trump’s business acumen, and his independence, or the fact that because of his great wealth he is less beholden to special interests than most politicians. Also, many of them believe Trump has the best chance among the Republican contenders to beat Hillary Clinton in a general election (I’m not sure why they believe this as multiple polls show Rubio actually does better against her among the general electorate than Trump does).

But I do understand what some voters see in him: his independence and obvious skill at having amassed and managed a fortune. I don’t think people’s support for Trump makes them chumps. But count me among those who believe that his emergence, and the massive following he has generated — who time and again forgive him some truly vicious statements and autocratic, un-American behavior (I’m talking about veiled threats toward reporters who simply ask tough questions and tacit acceptance of the endorsement of the KKK) — are disturbing.

There is some truth to Rubio’s line of attack: that Trump is, in a sense, a con artist.

It is literally true in terms of ventures like “Trump University.” It also contains truth in that many of Trump’s ideas, such as rounding up and deporting every illegal immigrant in the US, including children — and monitoring all Muslims — are unrealistic and impossible to implement, and against some of America’s most treasured values. He is a smart enough man to know this, and yet he keeps repeating this hyperbole over and over to demagogue the crowds. And by the way, his statements reveal how little he thinks of some of his own supporters.

Anyway, Marco Rubio made a splash last night in the Minnesota caucus, achieving a hard won victory after several days of attacking Trump, at times on substance and at times on style.

Someone had to stand up to the bully, and Rubio stepped up. It was long overdue. But better late than never.

As Rubio put it this week, “Why wouldn’t [Donald Trump] condemn the Ku Klux Klan? There is no room in the conservative movement and there is no room in the Republican Party for members of the Ku Klux Klan or racists like David Duke.”

Sounds like a winning, as opposed to a whining, message to me.

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