The biased media is out to get Donald Trump again, it seems. Another at-best-careless and at-worst-dangerous Trump comment about "Second Amendment people" stopping Hillary Clinton from appointing judges has led the usual cycle of outrage, headlines and denial. Lots and lots of denial, in fact.
The problem, though, is that the defenses offered by his campaign in the hours since Tuesday afternoon just don't make much sense, for one very important reason.
Here's the comment at issue, which Trump made at a rally Tuesday in North Carolina:
"Hillary wants to abolish -- essentially abolish the Second Amendment. By the way, and if she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks. [Pause] Although the Second Amendment people -- maybe there is, I don't know. But I tell you what, that'll be a horrible day."
After journalists quickly interpreted the comment as suggesting or joking about a call to arms, Trump's campaign was just as quick to offer its first defense -- that he was talking about gun-rights supporters voting:
"It’s called the power of unification – 2nd Amendment people have amazing spirit and are tremendously unified, which gives them great political power," Trump spokesman Jason Miller said in a statement. "And this year, they will be voting in record numbers, and it won't be for Hillary Clinton, it will be for Donald Trump."
Soon, Trump's running mate Mike Pence more directly denied that Trump was talking about an armed response to Clinton's judicial picks:
"Of course not, no," Pence said. "Donald Trump is urging people around this country to act in a manner consistent with their convictions in the course of this election, and people who cherish the Second Amendment have a very clear choice in this election."
This is exactly the response you'd expect Trump's campaign to give. And it's likely to satisfy his most ardent supporters and skeptics of the media.
But there's a big problem with it.
Trump made the "Second Amendment" remark as he was already talking about a situation in which Clinton was the president. He said, "If [Hillary Clinton] gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks." There's "nothing you can do" in this situation because Trump is talking about a time in which the 2016 election has already passed and Clinton is president. If he wasn't talking about that situation, why would he say there was "nothing you can do?" During the election, there's something pretty obvious you can do: Prevent her from becoming president in the first place.
Then Trump immediately follows it up by saying, "But I tell you what, that'll be a horrible day." Again, this strongly suggests the time frame he's talking about is when she's already in the White House. Otherwise, both the "horrible day" comment and the "nothing you can do" comment that bookend his Second Amendment remark are total non sequiturs.
Later Tuesday, former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani offered this at a Trump-Pence rally:
"What he said very clearly was that, if Hillary Clinton were elected president, she would get to appoint judges to the Supreme Court, and among the many things that they would do to destroy us would be to do away with the Second Amendment and your right to bear arms," Giuliani said. "And then he said, 'And you have the power to do something about it.' And what he meant by that was you have the power to vote against her. ... They spin out that what he meant by that was -- that it was a joke, and that what he meant by it was they would kill her."
And here's Giuliani on Wednesday morning on ABC's "Good Morning America."
"We know Donald Trump is not particularly indirect," he said. "If Donald Trump was going to say something like that, he'd say something like that."
There are all kinds of issues with Giuliani's defense. Trump wasn't saying anything "very clearly" on Tuesday afternoon. Trump also never said, "And you have the power to do something about it" -- or really anything close to that, as Giuliani argues.
Giuliani's Wednesday morning defense, though, is even more telling when it comes to how strained the campaign's defense is. He says Trump is "not particularly indirect," but Trump is the king of political innuendo.
He will often qualify his dubious allegations by asserting that "many people" are saying something, as he did this week when he suggested an Iranian scientist was executed because he was mentioned in Hillary Clinton's emails.
And there is no shortage of things Trump has said during this campaign that have left all of us to interpret them -- from Megyn Kelly's "blood coming out of her wherever," to saying he could have told Mitt Romney in 2012 to "drop to your knees" for his endorsement, to suggesting there might be a nefarious reason President Obama isn't tougher on terrorism.
"Look, we're led by a man that either is not tough, not smart, or he's got something else in mind," Trump said after the Orlando massacre. "And the something else in mind — you know, people can't believe it. People cannot, they cannot believe that President Obama is acting the way he acts and can't even mention the words 'radical Islamic terrorism.' There's something going on. It's inconceivable. There's something going on."
That comment couldn't be less direct and more suggestive. Trump even explained later, about what he meant, that "I’ll let people figure that out for themselves."
This is what Trump does. He's said way too many things that are strongly suggestive of something controversial to dismiss all of it as happenstance.
What's more amazing about all of this it really seemed to be just an extremely careless joke. House Speaker Paul Ryan offered this late Tuesday night after dominating his primary: "It sounds like just a joke gone bad. I hope he clears it up very quickly. You should never joke about something like that.”
That's probably the best defense Trump could have given. But when faced with an outcry after his controversial comments, Trump never admits error and never backs down -- no matter how strained the defense. Why should this time be any different?
Robert Costa contributed to this report.