As President Trump travels to the West today for the first time since the election, the stage has been set in downtown Phoenix for what could be a political barn burner.
Three big questions:
What will the fan rally planned by his presidential re-election organizers look like as it unfolds at the Phoenix Convention Center at 7 p.m. Pacific time?
Could the counter protests expected to take place at the same time turn confrontational or even violent?
And, will Trump pardon Joe Arpaio, the former sheriff of Maricopa County who became a national hero to some for his tough stance on undocumented immigrants and was found guilty last month of criminal contempt for disregarding a court order in a racial-profiling case?
Let’s start first with the last.
Will Trump pardon Joe Arpaio?
While there’s been no official word on what Trump might do for the former sheriff, the topic has certainly received a lot of high-octane buzz of late, with Trump himself discussing a pardon according to an unnamed source in the New York Times. Trump also told a Fox News reporter that he was “seriously considering” it.
While a pardon may be good news for the former tough-talking sheriff, such a move would further stoke the firestorm Trump started last week with his controversial comments about race and the white-supremacist protests in Charlottesville that claimed three lives.
Arpaio, who was ousted by voters in November, called himself “America’s toughest sheriff” during his two-decade run as the county’s top lawman. He’s now in hot water after being found guilty of criminal contempt for refusing to follow a judge’s order barring him from the racial profiling of Latinos.
Arpaio, who has contended the order wasn’t clear and he didn’t intend to violate it, said he would not be attending tonight’s Trump rally because, as he told CNN, “I haven’t been invited.”
What might the pro-Trump rally look like?
The convention center rally, and the counter protests outside, will likely provide a reflection of the sharp divide among Americans over the president’s policies, public comments and, at times, quirky behavior. Police in Phoenix say they’re ready to provide protection for people on all sides of the debate to exercise their free speech. But while pro-Trump passions will certainly run high inside the convention hall an equally fired-up crowd is expected to speak their minds outside on the streets.
One lingering question is whether the rally inside the center, which holds 29,000, will attract more people than those gathering for anti-Trump rallies outside and elsewhere around town. The Phoenix rally will provide the president’s supporters a chance to gather en masse and show they approve of his presidency so far, despite statements, tweets and decisions that have been roundly attacked by critics, including some in his own party.
In a sign of the fractious spirit that has increasingly consumed the Republican party in recent months, some GOP leaders are staying out of the limelight during Trump’s visit after being publicly attacked by the president. Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, for example, is steering clear of the rally entirely.
And what about the anti-Trump protesters?
Phoenix Police Chief Jeri Williams said in a statement that her force will have “maximum staffing during the visit” and vowed that authorities are ready to ensure the public safety of both supporters and critics of the president.
Police, though, may have their work cut out for them. Multiple protests have been announced and given the heat of the debate over how Trump handled himself in the aftermath of the Charlottesville protests, things could get messy.
In a sign of how deeply the Virginia tragedy still resonates with the American public, Monday’s night’s city council meeting in Charlottesville erupted in fury as citizens attacked the authorities’ handling of the white nationalist rally that left a woman dead and 19 people injured. That disturbance could be a foreshadowing of the public unrest downtown Phoenix could face this evening.
Several opposition rallies and marches have been planned, according to the Arizona Republic. By Tuesday, more than 3,900 people had indicated on Facebook that they would attend an event called Protest Trump Downtown Phoenix, which will be held across the street from the convention center.
Another 2,700 said they planned to attend White Supremacy Will Not Be Pardoned, organized by the Puente Human Rights Movement. And yet another rally, nicknamed Never Again: Jews and Allies Against Hate, was planned by David Schapira, a Tempe city councilman, and State Senator Robert Meza for the State Capitol earlier in the afternoon. Finally, a church in Phoenix also scheduled a march from the convention center to the Capitol later today.
And the Phoenix New Times reported that one group associated with the anti-fascist, or antifa, movement had called for “an anti-fascist & anti-colonial contingent against Trump’s rally” on Tuesday.
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