Nothing to see over there.

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Trump Keeps the Election on His Turf

Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg View columnist. He taught political science at the University of Texas at San Antonio and DePauw University and wrote A Plain Blog About Politics.
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Is Donald Trump benefiting, at least in the short term, from the focus on protests and violence at his rallies? If so, his ability to deflect attention from his rivals' substantive attacks on him has worked again. 

From the beginning, we've talked about the Red Queen race: Trump must do increasingly outrageous things to maintain his dominant share of press coverage, regardless of long-term consequences. But at this stage his dominance of the media has overshadowed the emerging case against him that his rivals and #neverTrump Republicans have been finally making. 

His Republican opponents have detailed his deviations from conservative orthodoxy and his lies and distortions on everything from the polls to facts about government and world affairs to prior statements he has made. They have also challenged claims about his business success. 

Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz made these attacks in a debate in late February, and Mitt Romney followed up with an anti-Trump speech on March 3. There was no way to know what impact these arguments would have on voters, but the reasoning of the appeal to Republicans made sense: Trump is not on their side, he can't be trusted when he says he is on their side, and his claims of extraordinary abilities are empty. 

Yet those attacks have largely disappeared in the days before Tuesday's primaries. Has anyone even mentioned Trump’s tax returns in the last week? They’ve been replaced by the tumult at his rallies as the object attracting coverage. 

Of course, reporters were interested in his campaign manager's manhandling of a reporter. And commentators, both liberal and conservative, have felt the need to chime in on the unrest and violence. Some liberals abandoned their original position that Trump is less scary than a regular conservative Republican and now say Trumpism is a threat to U.S. democracy.

This is an understandable reaction. 

But the criticism also likely pushes swing Republican voters closer to Trump. After all, a “Republican front-runner vs. protesters” story sets Trump squarely as “one of us” for most Republicans, undercutting the claims by Romney, Cruz and Rubio that he is not. And portraying him as a strongman type (rather than a buffoon) reinforces, rather than undermines, his message. 

Eventually, the rejection by the elites of what Trump is doing may serve to limit his support. But his ability to draw attention in the short run to whatever he wants has been his biggest strength in the campaign so far. 

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author of this story:
Jonathan Bernstein at jbernstein62@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Katy Roberts at kroberts29@bloomberg.net