Do violent protests against Trump help or hurt his chances?

There’s no credible evidence linking either Democratic candidate to the violence shadowing the Trump rallies. But it would be a mistake to think the violence won’t harm Trump politically.

For starters, potential Trump voters could end up staying away from his rallies for fear of being caught up in violence. And if enough people curious about Trump never get to hear his message in person, it’s more likely they won’t end up supporting him — the exact reaction that violent protesters want.

That’s a direct attack on free speech, but Trump will have a hard time playing the role of innocent victim, because he has openly and repeatedly encouraged his supporters to respond to rude or rowdy protesters with violence.

“Try not to hurt him,” Trump said from the podium at a speech in Michigan in March. “If you do, I’ll defend you in court, don’t worry about it.”…

And while Trump might wish to repeat Nixon’s feat of positioning himself as a law-and-order candidate — the answer to lawless behavior — his credibility on that score will be compromised by footage of him saying things like, “I’d like to punch him in the face” when referring to demonstrators.