ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Donald Trump walked into a packed Albuquerque Convention Center Tuesday night to cheers and chants of “U.S.A.! U.S.A.!”
By the time he left more than an hour later, more than a dozen protesters had been escorted or dragged out.
And outside, demonstrators burned Trump T-shirts and signs, while young people waving Mexican flags cruised up and down the street shouting at the mostly older crowd leaving the rally.
Police on horses and in riot gear tried to quell the protests, which resulted in one arrest and several injured police officers.
Trump has faced disruptions at campaign events throughout the primary season. And Tuesday was not the first time that anti-Trump protests turned violent. In March, clashes between protesters and supporters of the GOP candidate in Chicago prompted the cancelation of a similar rally.
In between, Trump insulted New Mexico’s Republican Gov. Susana Martinez, blaming her (along with the Obama administration and Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton) for the state’s lagging economy.
“Your governor has to do a better job,” Trump told the crowd.
Martinez was not among the 8,000 other New Mexicans at Tuesday’s rally. She’s resisted endorsing the presumptive GOP nominee so far, only saying that she won’t be voting for Clinton.
Even political opponents of Martinez questioned Trump’s slam at a potential ally.
Violent protests play right into Trump’s divisive plan. Plus buries big story: possible next C-in-C trashed potential ally over petty slight
— Carter Bundy (@carterbundy) May 25, 2016
As chairwoman of the Republican Governor’s Association, Martinez has been mentioned as a possible running mate for the billionaire mogul. Trump’s remarks Tuesday make that possibility unlikely.
But no other high-ranking state Republicans showed up at the rally either. Instead, the candidate’s policy director Stephen Miller read excerpts from an anti-Clinton book, “Clinton Cash,” to introduce his boss.
New Mexico’s political class hasn’t been generous to Trump. Until a $10,000-a-person event in Albuquerque Tuesday, the presumptive GOP nominee
had raised less money
in the state than Libertarian Party contender and former Gov. Gary Johnson. Democratic candidates Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders have far outpaced Republicans in raising money in a state expected to go blue in November.
But to the enthusiastic supporters at the rally on Tuesday, the deficiencies in Trump’s fundraising prowess or the absence of major politicians backing him up was likely not a concern.
One Native American man said he hadn’t voted since 1992, when he was in the military and voted for George H.W. Bush.
While he said he often has disagreements on Facebook with relatives who still live on the reservation, he said he’s liked Trump “ever since he started lashing his tongue at the truth.”
Trump drew cheers when he noted the number of Hispanics in the crowd.
There were also plenty of mostly young infiltrators, though, who repeatedly interrupted Trump with often crude chants.
As he’s done at other venues, Trump alternated between insulting the protesters — “How old is this kid? Still wearing diapers!” — and leading the crowd in chants of “U.S.A.! U.S.A.!”
While the protests inside were a mere distraction — even entertainment — outside the convention center, demonstrations escalated.
Earlier in the evening, dissenters were mostly separated from rally goers on a closed street where they marched carrying signs and chanting.
But some protesters broke through a police line protecting the convention center entrance in an unsuccessful attempt to enter the building. The escalating unrest led police to divert rally attendees to a different exit, trying to steer them clear of confrontations.
Those leaving the rally were met on a side street by some anti-Trump chanting from passing vehicles.
And while many of the protesters had left by then, a small group remained, throwing rocks and bottles at police and burning signs and T-shirts on the ground.
several officers were treated for injuries after being hit by rocks, with at least one arrest made during the scuffles that followed.
Trump offered his version of events Wednesday on Twitter.
The protesters in New Mexico were thugs who were flying the Mexican flag. The rally inside was big and beautiful, but outside, criminals!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 25, 2016