Rick Pearson , John Byrne and Kim Geiger, Chicago Tribune [Article contains videos.]
Image from article, with caption: A Chicago rally for Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump was canceled on March 11, 2016, as protesters mixed with supporters inside and outside the UIC Pavilion.
A nation's deep and angry political divide collided on a Chicago college campus Friday night, keeping Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump from taking the stage at a major rally just days before the Illinois primary.
The volatile convergence of thousands of Trump supporters and protesters, which resulted in sporadic skirmishes inside and outside the University of Illinois at Chicago Pavilion, reflected the two extremes of the political landscape — a disaffected right wing and a dissatisfied left wing.
Each represents an unknown voting quotient heading into Tuesday's Illinois primary election as Republicans choose from among Trump and a fractured field, while Democrats pick between former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.
Five people were arrested at the shuttered event — charges against them are pending early Saturday, police said — and two officers were injured. They were taken to area hospitals with non-life-threatening injuries.
Moments after the rally was canceled, the TV-savvy Trump did a telephone interview with MSNBC and sought to frame the protests as having more to do with the nation's polarized political climate than his own campaign rhetoric.
"You have so much anger in the country. I mean it's just anger in the country. I don't think it's directed at me or anything," Trump said. "It's just directed at what's going on for years and it's sort of both sides."
Trump, who has discussed curbing First Amendment press freedoms, lamented he didn't get to exercise his own free-speech rights Friday night even as protesters exerting theirs shut down his rally.
"It's a little bit sad when you can't have a rally in a major city in this country," Trump told MSNBC. "Whatever happened to freedom of speech, whatever happened to the right to get to gather and speak in a peaceful manner? It's very sad to see this."
It is unclear how the cancellation of Trump's rally will play with Illinois' Republican electorate as it considers whether to vote for Trump, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, Ohio Gov. John Kasich or Florida Sen. Marco Rubio.
The viral images of a largely young, ethnically and racially diverse group of protesters erasing his Chicago event could help the chances of the brash-speaking businessman and reality TV star who has eschewed political correctness along the campaign trail.
But the continued divisiveness surrounding Trump's campaign also could lead some Republican voters to reconsider whether he could win in the fall, a point that his GOP rivals made in the hours afterward.
"Any candidate is responsible for the culture of the campaign," Cruz said at a Republican fundraising event in northwest suburban Rolling Meadows. "And when you have a campaign that disrespects the voters, when you have a campaign that affirmatively encourages violence, when you have a campaign that is facing allegations of physical violence against members of the press, you create an environment that only encourages this sort of nasty discourse."
In a statement, Kasich said voters should "reject those who try to divide us for personal gain."
"Tonight the seeds of division that Donald Trump has been sowing this whole campaign finally bore fruit, and it was ugly," Kasich said.
Rubio said the situation that unfolded in Chicago was an indication of how "we are being ripped apart at the seams as a nation and as a people right now."
Trump, he said, "bears responsibility for … the general tone and atmosphere of his campaign, which has been about things like the reason why things are going wrong in your life or in this country is because of this group of people versus that group of people."
Trump was scheduled to return to Illinois with a stop in Bloomington on Sunday morning after taking his campaign to Ohio on Saturday. It's his second visit of the campaign to central Illinois after holding a Springfield rally last fall.
Then Trump was supposed to head back to Ohio on Sunday afternoon, but a rally planned in Cincinnati was canceled when the Secret Service could not finish security preparation in time, The Cincinnati Enquirer reported.
Lost in the coverage of Friday night's protests was the announcement that Republican U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk, viewed as one of the most politically vulnerable senators seeking re-election, said he would support Trump if he won the GOP presidential nomination. Kirk's comments came during an interview with WMAQ-Ch. 5 before the Trump event was called off.
U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth of Hoffman Estates, former Chicago Urban League CEO Andrea Zopp and state Sen. Napoleon Harris of Harvey are competing for the Democratic primary nomination to take on Kirk, who faces nominal primary opposition. Duckworth's campaign quickly tried to raise campaign money based on Kirk's remarks about Trump.
Kasich and Rubio are trying to consolidate support in their home states to thwart the front-runner. Ohio and Florida also hold their primaries Tuesday, but unlike Illinois, each of them is a winner-take-all state for national nominating delegates.
In an unusual move, Rubio on Friday urged his supporters in Ohio to cast a vote for Kasich rather than himself.
"John Kasich is the only one who can beat Donald Trump in Ohio," Rubio said in West Palm Beach. "If a voter in Ohio is motivated by stopping Donald Trump, I suspect that's the only choice they can make."
For his part, Kasich unveiled a new TV ad in Chicago touting his record on job creation in Ohio and pledging to "cut taxes, freeze new regulations and reshore American jobs" if he becomes president.
Cruz, at the Rolling Meadows fundraiser, said he was campaigning hard for support in Illinois.
"This race has now become a two-man race, there are only two candidates who have any credible path to becoming the Republican nominee," he said, downplaying Kasich and Rubio.
More than an hour after the Trump event was nixed, Sanders spoke to supporters in southwest suburban Summit. "We're not going to let Donald Trump or anyone else divide us," he told the crowd at Argo Community High School.
Sanders did not talk about the protests at the Trump event but said he would defeat the Republican in the general election "because the American people are not going to accept a president who insults Mexicans, who insults Muslims."
Clinton, in a statement, criticized Trump for his "divisive rhetoric" and said it "should be of grave concern to us all."
"We all have our differences, and we know many people across the country feel angry. We need to address that anger together," she said in a statement, adding that candidates "should use our words and deeds to bring Americans together."
Sanders has launched a two-pronged effort against Clinton in her birth state, using new TV ads to try to dampen support for her among African-American and Latino voters by tying her to Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
Emanuel, who was a top aide to former President Bill Clinton, has endorsed Hillary Clinton. But Emanuel also is deeply unpopular in the black and Latino communities following the November release of the Laquan McDonald police shooting video.
At Argo High, the loudest boos came when Sanders mentioned that Clinton had received "the strong endorsement of Mayor Rahm Emanuel."
"I want to thank Rahm Emanuel for not endorsing me," he said. "I don't want his endorsement."
Sanders hit Clinton for supporting "disastrous trade agreements" like the North American Free Trade Agreement that he said have been particularly damaging to Midwestern economies like Illinois'.
And he dwelt on one of the central logistical concerns of his insurgent campaign — getting his young, enthusiastic supporters to the polls.
"What has happened in previous caucuses and primaries, we win when turnout is high, we lose when turnout is low," Sanders said. "Next Tuesday, let us make certain we have a record-breaking turnout here in Illinois."
Sanders was scheduled to hold a Saturday morning news conference in downtown Chicago before attending a forum at the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition with the Rev. Jesse Jackson. Sanders endorsed Jackson's two unsuccessful Democratic presidential bids in 1984 and 1988.
Then he was to travel to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign for an afternoon rally. Sanders, who has called for free college tuition, has found younger voters an important core constituency.
Clinton was in Vernon Hills on Thursday night, and the former president was in Peoria on Friday. Her campaign announced she would return to Illinois on election eve Monday. She will start the day with a morning rally at Plumbers Hall on Chicago's Near West Side. Later she'll travel to Springfield, where she will be part of a town hall televised on MSNBC's "Hardball with Chris Matthews."
Sanders previously appeared on Matthews' show in a broadcast from the candidate's alma mater, the University of Chicago.