A GOP congressman said he wasn’t blaming President Trump for Wednesday’s shooting at a Republican baseball practice in Alexandria, Va., when he said Trump’s behavior had contributed to unleashing “demons” that have taken political discourse over the brink.
Rep. Mark Sanford (R-S.C.) told MSNBC on Thursday morning that he “would argue that the president is at least — is partially — again, not in any way totally, but partially to blame for demons that have been unleashed, whether it’s what I saw at a senior center back home and people saying F-you and F-you and F-you to each other at a senior or a retirement center, where they’re going to see each other playing croquet the next day or with what happened — again, not with what happened yesterday but the fact that, you know, you have the top guy saying, well, I wish I can hit you in the face. And if not, why don’t you and I’ll pay your legal fees. That’s bizarre. We ought to call it as such.”
At a February 2016 rally in Iowa, Trump said, “There may be somebody with tomatoes in the audience. So if you see somebody getting ready to throw a tomato, knock the crap out of them, would you? Seriously. OK? Just knock the hell— I promise you, I will pay for the legal fees.”
Of a protester later in the month, Trump told an audience, “I’d like to punch him in the face, I tell ya.”
After a rally supporter sucker-punched a protester being led out of a March rally and was charged with assault, Trump was asked on NBC’s if he would pay the supporter’s legal fees. “I’ve actually instructed my people to look into it, yes,” he said. Trump later reversed course.
Sanford said that “some of these people have been frankly weird and different in a town hall meeting” back in his home district. “And they’ll say, look, if the guy at the top could say anything to anybody at any time, why can’t I?”
“I think we all need to look for ways to learn from what happened yesterday and to say, wait a minute, this is a pause moment,” he added.
Later in the day on CNN, Sanford emphasized that he “didn’t blame” Trump for the Alexandria shooting.
“What I said was, we have gotten to a point in terms of breakdown of civility in our country that it’s a problem, and that everybody is to blame and the blame can go on Republicans side, go on Democratic side. But when the president says to somebody in the audience, I wish I could hit you in the face, if not, why don’t you do it and I’ll pay your legal fees, we ought to call it for what it is. That’s a problem,” Sanford said.
Going back to his senior center example, the congressman explained, “I’ve been around politics for 20 years. I’ve never seen this kind of energy before. It’s a very negative energy. And these are people who will be playing croquet with each other the next day. It’s like they don’t know each other. They know each other and yet they were using certain expletives that just don’t fit.”
“…History is filled with all kinds of examples that remind us of how thin that line is between complete unrest and breakdown of civil society and that which it stands for and institutions that are strong. And so, you know, it’s incumbent upon everyone one of us in the body politic to do our part.”