WASHINGTON — First, he tapped into an undercurrent of anger to power a surprising presidential bid.
Now he's trying to control it.
It took an ugly racial beating in Boston for Donald Trump to attempt to contain the anti-foreign energy of supporters enthralled by his campaign against Mexican migrants.
His all-bombast-all-the-time Twitter feed carried an uncharacteristically contrite message on Friday, one day after he'd made remarks about the incident that some deemed insensitive.
"Boston incident is terrible," Trump wrote.
"We need energy and passion, but we must treat each other with respect. I would never condone violence."
A day earlier, Trump had offered a mixed message. When asked about the incident he said he was unaware of it, said it would be a shame if true, then added: "I will say, the people that are following me are very passionate. They love this country, they want this country to be great again."
Their support has proven resilient to successive volleys of condemnation from mainstream political rivals who note an ugly undercurrent in all of that yearning for the America of yore, and in those crowds delighted by Trump's slights against illegal Mexican immigrants and the feckless American politicians being outfoxed by the Chinese.
In a less-reported incident involving a Trump supporter, a North Dakota newspaper last week said a white supremacist had tried to buy up land for a whites-only town right next to the Manitoba border and name a community after Donald Trump. The municipality thwarted the plan by buying up the vacant land, said the Grand Forks Herald.
While political commentators in the U.S. have oscillated between ridicule and exasperation over what rival candidate Rick Perry likened to a carnival-barking routine and a headline in Rolling Stone called a campaign clown car, some Spanish-language peers have been less inclined to see it as a mere circus sideshow.
A columnist in Mexico's La Reforma newspaper, Armando Fuentes Aguirre, wrote that while he believed in the essential decency of people: "I admit that there are bad men able to instill evil in others. Donald Trump is one of those perverse specimens of which humanity should be ashamed."
He wrote that column before Trump laid out his immigration policy.
Trump's new plan would end the U.S.'s 150-year-old, constitutionally guaranteed tradition of citizenship for anyone born in the U.S. That was just one element in a platform that would build a wall on the Mexican border and triple the number of immigration agents in order to deport the 11 million migrants in the country without legal papers.
A few days later, a homeless Mexican man was beaten with a metal pole and urinated upon in Boston.
The attack left him in hospital with broken ribs, and one of the two brothers arrested in the incident was quoted in the police report saying: "Donald Trump was right; all these illegals need to be deported."
The Mexican government said it was in contact with the victim and ready to offer legal services.
It also delivered a call for respectful dialogue.
"Mexico strongly condemns this incident and asks that the contributions of the immigrant community to the economy, society, values and culture in the United States be recognized for the positive forces that they are," said a statement from Mexico's Boston consulate.
"Mexico will continue to promote constructive dialogue between our two societies and reject any act of violence motivated by racism, national origin or the migratory status of any individual."
One political writer who'd revelled in ridiculing Trump is suddenly singing a different tune. Rolling Stone's Matt Taibbi said he'd likened the campaign to a piece of pornographic performance art — a spectacle without real-world consequences.
But not anymore.
After some poll numbers showing Trump inching closer to Democrat Hillary Clinton, and after the Boston beating and Trump's initial reaction to it, Taibbi wrote Friday: "This is the moment when Donald Trump officially stopped being funny."
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