Donald Trump dismissed criticism Sunday that he’s fueling the violence at his campaign rallies, saying he’s “just the messenger” for Americans’ festering frustration and urged campaign supporters in Illinois to “give me two years” to turn around the country.
“We have protesters so mean. They are so bad,” the front-running GOP presidential candidate said at an outdoor rally in Bloomington, Ill. “Our people started swinging back, and the next day we are the bad guys.”
Trump’s comments at the rally follow a weekend of campaign events marred by violence and increasing calls for him to acknowledge that his fiery campaign rhetoric has caused at least some of the problems.
Among the problems are arrests, clashes between supporters and protesters, a would-be stage crasher and the cancellation of a rally Friday night in Chicago.
Trump told “Fox News Sunday” and others that Americans are “angry” about years of stagnant wages, few jobs and other issues -- including bad international trade deals and the lack of care for U.S. military veterans.
"The people are angry at that,” Trump said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “They're not angry about something I'm saying. I'm just the messenger."
Ohio Gov. John Kasich said Saturday that Trump’s campaign rhetoric, including the argument that essentially all Muslims dislike America and his talk about "punching" campaign protesters, has incited the violence and is “creating a toxic environment."
Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton said at a rally Saturday: "The ugly, divisive rhetoric we are hearing from Donald Trump and the encouragement of violence and aggression is wrong, and it's dangerous. ... That's not leadership. That's political arson."
Trump also argued Sunday that his events draw crowds that far exceed those of his White House rivals -- including 35,000 people at a recent rally in Alabama -- so the repeated talk about violence is being exaggerated.
“Nobody’s ever been hurt,” he told Fox. “Some of these protesters are bad dudes. They swing and they punch.”
Trump said he doesn’t condone violence, including the case of the white male supporter who is accused of striking a black protester in the face during a recent rally in Fayetteville, N.C.
Trump also make stops Sunday in Ohio and Florida, ahead of voting Tuesday in those states and in Missouri, Illinois and North Carolina that could be make-or-break for candidates.
The Illinois rally was interrupted several times by protesters, which was followed by Trump unapologetically telling security to “get ‘em out.”
He also continued to argue that the protesters are hired and suggested that some of them are backed by the same people or groups that support Democratic candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, Vermont.
“Send them back to Bernie,” Trump shouted at the rally. “What happened in Chicago was a setup. … They are not protesters; They are disruptors.”
Trump also called up to the stage a rally attendee wearing a T-shirt that read: “I’m a legal alien.”
“I came here when I was 5 years old,” the man said. “I’m surprised to be up here. My parents did it by the book.”
A town hall-style event later Sunday in West Chester, Ohio, outside of Cincinnatti, then a rally in Boca Raton, Fla., were both interrupted by protestors.
Although the police presence was obvious in West Chester, the audience was far friendlier than at the past few Trump stops.
Only two protesters sneaked into the ballroom where Trump was speaking: a man holding a Sanders for president campaign sign and a woman who faced the news media covering the event and tore a Trump sign in half.
Following Friday night’s unrest in Chicago before one of his rallies, Trump was met with protests and countless interruptions Saturday in Ohio and Missouri.
The Chicago Police Department said in a news release sent Saturday night that three men from Chicago and a 45-year-old woman from Michigan were arrested and charged for participating in a disturbance at the protest Friday night.
At a rally in Dayton, Ohio, on Saturday, a man tried to breach the security buffer at the event and he was removed “rapidly and professionally,” Trump spokeswoman Hope Hicks said. Secret Service agents rushed the stage to protect Trump.
Thomas Dimassimo was identified as the barrier jumper. He was charged with inducing panic and disorderly conduct, Montgomery County Sheriff Phil Plummer said.
Such problems continued in Kansas City, Mo., where Trump was interrupted numerous times. At least seven people stalled the rally in the first few minutes. And police had to pepper spray several protesters.
"I think they're Bernie [Sanders] supporters," Trump said of the protesters, pointing to at least one protester who appeared to be holding a sign in support of the senator.
Trump canceled his rally at the University of Illinois at Chicago on Friday after violence broke out in the arena where he was scheduled to speak.
He spoke later to Fox News, saying he canceled the event because he didn’t want to see “people get hurt.”
He said he made the decision to cancel after meeting with law enforcement authorities. Trump also said his First Amendment rights had been violated.
Hours earlier, Trump supporters and opponents stood calmly in a line together waiting to get inside. Police horses and barricades kept the bulk of the demonstrators across the street.
Trump opponents were protesting what they called his divisive comments, particularly about Muslims and Mexicans. Dozens of UIC faculty and staff had petitioned university administrators to cancel the rally, citing concerns it would create a "hostile and physically dangerous environment."
At one point, nearly 20 officers who had been manning barricades suddenly bolted for an intersection across a street bridge over a freeway -- where protesters shouted at and jostled with police already there. An officer was seen walking from that intersection with blood on his head.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.