'It has to stop': Obama blames campaign-trail rhetoric for violence at Donald Trump rallies

US President Barack Obama said Tuesday that “vulgar and divisive” language is damaging America’s reputation abroad and leading to violence at GOP frontrunner Donald Trump’s rallies.

“I’m not the only one in this room who’s more than a little dismayed about what’s been happening on the campaign trail recently,” he said to a group of lawmakers at a Capitol Hill luncheon.

In a thinly veiled shot at Trump, Obama said the offensive rhetoric has been aimed at women, minorities, and Americans who “don’t look like us or pray like us or vote like we do.”

Obama added, however, that protesters have engaged in “misguided attempts” to shut down that speech, adding that we “live in a country where free speech is one of the most important rights that we hold.”

“In response to those attempts we’ve seen actual violence and we’ve heard silence form too many of our leaders,” he said, before praising House Speaker Paul Ryan for decrying the divisive rhetoric. “Too often, we’ve accepted this as somehow the new normal. And it’s worth asking ourselves what each of us has done to contribute to this vicious atmosphere in our politics.”

“I suspect that all of us can recall some intemperate words that we regret. Certainly, I can,” he continued. “And while some may be more to blame than others for the current climate, all of us are responsible for reversing it. For it is a cycle that is not an accurate representation of America, and it has to stop.”

He made the statement not to be politically correct, he said, but to shed light on how the “corrosive behaviour” undermines “our democracy and our society and even our economy.”

“This is also about the American brand,” he said. “Who are we? How are we perceived around the world? The world pays attention to what we say and what we do.”

Obama’s statements come after a week full of increased tensions along the campaign trail.

Last Wednesday, an apparent Trump supporter allegedly sucker punched a protester as he was being removed by law enforcement from North Carolina rally. Then, on Friday, Trump canceled a rally in Chicago after repeated clashes between protesters and supporters occurred before the event was scheduled to start.

The next day, a protester stormed the stage at a Trump campaign rally in Ohio. That protester was apprehended and charged with disorderly conduct and inducing panic, according to ABC.

Trump, for his part, has rejected the characterization that “violence” has become prevalent at his rallies.

“First of all let’s not even use the word violence. There’s very little disruption, generally speaking. It’s a function of the press, the press likes to say what the press likes to say,” Trump told CNN Monday. “But there’s no violence. Nobody’s been hurt.”

Critics, however, have accused Trump of inciting the clash-filled atmosphere with some of his more colourful rhetoric. He has previously said, for instance, that he’d like to “punch” a protester in the face. He also seemed to consider paying the legal fees of the North Carolina man who allegedly punched a protester, a statement he later walked back.

“No, I don’t like that. And we don’t condone that, Wolf. And I’ve said that numerous times,” Trump told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer when asked about the North Carolina incident.

Watch Obama’s statement below:

.@POTUS on 2016 election climate: “We’ve accepted this as somehow the new normal…and it has to stop” https://t.co/3YcN8IynWZ
— MSNBC (@MSNBC) March 15, 2016

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