GOP Rep. Sanford on Va. shooting: Trump partially responsible ‘for the demons that have been unleashed’

President Trump’s rhetoric is “partially” to blame ratcheting up political tensions in the U.S., Rep. Mark Sanford, R-S.C., said Thursday on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” connecting the commander in chief to Wednesday’s shooting at a GOP baseball practice in Northern Virginia.

“The president is at least partially — again, not any way totally, but partially — to blame for demons that have been unleashed,” Sanford said, noting that although Trump was not responsible for the shooting, his coarse rhetoric and encouragement of violence have fostered aggression and a lack of civility in the heated political climate.

“If you let these forces play out, I think we end up at a very, very bad spot,” Sanford said. “What happened yesterday was symptomatic of it.”

At Wednesday’s shooting, a gunman fired on members of Congress practicing for a baseball game, injuring five, including House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., the No. 3 House Republican, who remains in critical condition. The gunman, James T. Hodgkinson, died from his injuries after a shootout with police.

Rep. Mark Sanford, R-S.C., at a town hall meeting in March. (Photo: Sean Rayford/Getty Images)

Sanford pointed to one of Trump’s comments at a 2016 campaign rally, in which he had encouraged the crowd to “knock the crap” out of protesters.

“The fact that you know, you’ve got the top guy saying, ‘Well, I wish I could hit you in the face and if not, why don’t you, and I’ll pay your legal fees,’” Sanford said. “That’s bizarre; we ought to call it as such.”

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The congressman also referred to a recent town hall at a senior center, during which attendees exchanged profane remarks.

“Some of these people have been frankly weird and different,” Sanford said. “They’ll say, ‘Look, if the guy at the top can say anything to anybody at any time, why can’t I?’”

Rep. Chris Collins, R-N.Y., a longtime Trump ally, took time Thursday to reflect on the role that political rhetoric can play in inciting violence. Following the shooting, Collins initially put the blame on Democrats. Hodgkinson’s apparent social media posts frequently lambasted the GOP, and at least one congressman at the baseball shooting said that he believes the shooter asked him before the rampage if people on the field were Democrats or Republicans.

“I did lash out. … After, you know, the emotion of that instance wore off, an hour or two later, I looked in the mirror and said, ‘That’s not the right tone,’” Collins said on CNN’s  “New Day,” adding, “I’m willing to admit that was wrong for me to say, that would actually be going in the wrong direction, and I myself am gonna try to tone down some of my rhetoric.”

Collins also criticized Trump for blasting a Washington Post report of a possible obstruction of justice investigation into Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey. “I would have certainly not advised that that tweet go out today because we’re still very much reacting to yesterday’s shooting,” Collins said on “New Day.”

Sanford, who called for more bipartisanship in caucuses and legislation, expressed concern that people won’t take a step back and learn from the shooting.

“[We need] to say, ‘Wait a minute, this is a pause moment. What might I do a little bit differently in the way that I reach out to other members [of Congress]?” Sanford said.

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