So much for any sense of Donald Trump staying away from inflammatory and dangerous comments.
At a rally in Wilmington, N.C. on Tuesday, Trump addressed his opponent’s support for new gun-control measures.
“Hillary wants to abolish — essentially abolish the Second Amendment,” Trump said. (That’s not true, even if you include the word “essentially.”) “And if she gets to pick...” he continued, “if she gets to pick her judges: Nothing you can do, folks.
“Although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is,” he added. “I don’t know. But I tell you what, that will be a horrible day.”
To be very clear: Trump is referring to remedies for judicial picks made by Hillary Clinton once she takes office. The remedy he proposes is that the “Second Amendment people”" — gun owners — deal with it. There are at least two plausible ways to read this: Either Trump is casually suggesting that a sitting president could be shot or he’s arguing that gun owners engage in armed conflict with federal officials sent to collect their weapons.
It’s clear that some in the audience read it the former way. A couple sitting over Trump’s left shoulder visibly reacted to the statement — with laughter, as Trump will argue he intended.
Trump’s comments are without precedent in a modern presidential campaign. For weeks, he’s argued without evidence that the election will be “rigged” against him, comments that seem to suggest that he won’t accept a general election result that has him losing. (As polls currently suggest could well happen.) He’s argued before that Supreme Court picks are a key reason to support him. But even a joking implication that a political opponent be killed is exceptional.
Last month, an adviser to Trump named Al Baldasaro was investigated by the Secret Service after saying that Clinton “should be put in the firing line and shot for treason.” Earlier this week, Trump praised Baldasaro, saying that he had “been so great.”
This week has also seen a number of prominent Republicans, including Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and 50 former national security officials speak out against Trump’s candidacy. Collins cited the “inescapable conclusion that Mr. Trump lacks the temperament, self-discipline and judgment required to be president.” The national security officials were harsher:
[Trump] is unable or unwilling to separate truth from falsehood. He does not encourage conflicting views. He lacks self-control and acts impetuously. He cannot tolerate personal criticism. He has alarmed our closest allies with his erratic behavior. All of these are dangerous qualities in an individual who aspires to be President and Commander-in-Chief, with command of the U.S. nuclear arsenal.
Trump’s campaign will almost certainly have to try to explain away this comment, as they’ve had to address so many comments before. The combination of the extremism of the comment and the context in which it was delivered makes it hard to see how they can do so successfully.
At least one gun-rights advocate has made similar comments to the one Trump made today. In May, Larry Pratt of Gun Owners of America stated in reference to judicial appointments that he’d “much rather have an election where we solve this matter at the ballot box than have to resort to the bullet box.”
Pratt, of course, isn’t a candidate for president.
Update: Both the Trump and Clinton campaigns have already responded to the comment.
Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook: “This is simple — what Trump is saying is dangerous. A person seeking to be the President of the United States should not suggest violence in any way.”
Trump senior communications adviser Jason Miller (under the headline “Trump Campaign Statement on Dishonest Media"): “It’s called the power of unification — 2nd Amendment people have amazing spirit and are tremendously unified, which gives them great political power. And this year, they will be voting in record numbers, and it won’t be for Hillary Clinton, it will be for Donald Trump.”