The threat of violence among Donald Trump supporters has a lot of people scared, but that fear could actually become a central part of his stategy going into any contested Republican convention.
Once the dust settles on primaries being held tonight in Florida, Ohio, Illinois, Missouri and North Carolina, we'll have a better sense of whether Trump is likely to secure the 1,237 delegates needed to win the GOP nomination outright, or if he's more likely to come up short, leaving it to delegates to decide the nominee on the convention floor.
This will put Republicans in a difficult position. On the one hand, many of them want to stop Trump from winning the nomination at all costs, given that he isn't ideologically conservative and would do grave damage to the GOP brand and to candidates running for House and Senate. But on the other hand, there's the fear of a backlash among Trump supporters if he comes into the convention with the most delegates and after having won the most states, but is denied the nomination by political elites.
And that's where the threat of violence comes in.
As the Washington Examiner editorialized, Trump is exhibiting a reckless attitude toward violence. He's talking about beating up protesters, fantasizing about the days when protesters used to get roughed up, and even offering to pay legal bills of those who attack protesters. On Sunday, he took things to an unprecedented level in modern presidential politics by issuing a thinly-veiled warning that he'd dispatch his supporters to Bernie Sanders rallies.
Of course, in typical Trump fashion, he's playing a game where he'll have a lot of tough talk, then claim not to endorse violence, and now he's claiming to have never promised to pay anybody's legal fees.
But the overall impression that he's created is that he's sitting on a powder keg. That he controls a huge mob of angry supporters that can be dispatched at his whim. And ultimately, one can see how that's starting to filter into the conversation people are having over a contested convention.
Political commentators now routinely talk about the riots that would break out in Cleveland if Trump were denied the nomination, about how his supporters have guns and all hell could break loose, that they would burn everything to the ground.
It works to Trump's advantage to not try too hard to dispel these notions. He wants Republican delegates who control his political fate to have it in the back of their minds that the convention would turn into an actual bloodbath if they dare to deny Trump the nomination. And the more the media portrays Trump supporters as an unruly mob over the next few months, the more fearful GOP elites will become, and the more it plays into Trump's hands.