SCRANTON, Pa. — Donald Trump was experiencing a rare deficit of essential fuel for his presidential campaign Wednesday: attention. But in the span of two events, he all but erased the shortfall with a series of incendiary remarks.
First, he expressed hope at a news conference in South Florida that Russia would obtain and release thousands of Hillary Clinton’s private emails — an extraordinary call, swiftly condemned by Democrats and many Republicans, for foreign actors to meddle in an American election.
Later he walked into a packed college gymnasium here in the home town of Vice President Joe Biden and Clinton’s late father and scorned the notion that he should lay low while Democrats hold their national convention.
“Well, guess what, folks — we’re campaigning,” Trump said proudly to cheers. “Because we’re going to make America great again, folks.”
At the same event, he argued that Clinton would set women “back a long way,” and suggested that she would do such a poor job that American voters wouldn’t choose a woman again anytime soon. He also seemed to mock Bill Clinton for omitting extramarital affairs from his Tuesday-night speech.
As a parade of Democratic luminaries, actors, musicians and other celebrities have descended on Philadelphia this week to celebrate Clinton’s nomination for president, Trump — at least for the moment — is not the feature attraction in the presidential campaign.
Many Republicans have been content to let Clinton cope with the intraparty discord that has distracted from official convention festivities. But the Republican nominee appeared determined to leave his mark, even if it meant sparking a new round of controversy.
That is exactly what he did during a freewheeling question-and-answer session with reporters at his luxury golf resort near Miami.
“Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press,” Trump said, referring to emails that were deemed personal and deleted from the private email system Clinton used as secretary of state.
Trump spokesman Jason Miller said later on Twitter that Trump “did not call on, or invite, Russia or anyone else to hack” Clinton’s emails and was merely saying that if Russia or others have emails, “they should share them” with the FBI.
The Clinton campaign cast his comments as unprecedented and dangerous.
“This has to be the first time that a major presidential candidate has actively encouraged a foreign power to conduct espionage against his political opponent,” Clinton senior policy adviser Jake Sullivan said in a statement. “That’s not hyperbole, that’s just the facts.”
Democrats have raised red flags about Trump’s praise of Russian President Vladimir Putin as cybersecurity experts investigate whether Russia was responsible for the hacking of thousands of Democratic National Committee emails that were posted on WikiLeaks last week. Trump has called Putin a “strong leader.”
Some emails show Democratic Party officials plotting to help Clinton defeat Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont. DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz was forced to resign because of the leaks. She will leave her post after the Democratic convention.
Trump said several times at the Wednesday news conference that it was unclear whether Russian state actors had been involved, suggesting that the Chinese government also could have carried out the hacking.
“I have nothing to do with Russia!” Trump said, sounding exasperated. “I said that Putin has much better leadership qualities than Obama, but who doesn’t know that?”
He said in Scranton that if he had been caught emailing some of the things that Democrats were sending to one another, he would have been “run out of town” or forced to withdraw from the race.
He also attacked Clinton and panned the Democratic convention’s program. Biden and vice-presidential nominee Tim Kaine were on the list of speakers Wednesday night.
The mogul sought to play down the celebrity star power that Democrats have displayed in Philadelphia, comparing well-known speakers with his wife and children, who spoke on his behalf at last week’s Republican convention.
“I’d rather have those five stars,” he said. Then he introduced his son Eric Trump, who highlighted his connections to the region from his attendance at an eastern Pennsylvania private school in his youth.
Clinton made history Tuesday as the first woman to be nominated for president by a major political party. Trump sought to undercut her appeal.
“I want to see a woman become president, but it can’t be her,” Trump said. “She’s a disaster. She’ll set you back a long way, women, if that happens. It’ll be a long way before it happens again. You better be careful what you wish for.”
Chants of “Lock her up!” broke out as Trump mentioned Clinton, as often happened during the GOP convention. As he did in his convention speech, Trump encouraged his backers to channel their anger into action at the ballot box this fall.
“You know what, we’re going to do even better. We’re going to beat her on November 8,” he said.
Outside, vendors sold anti-Clinton merchandise, including buttons with a picture of Clinton’s face and the words: “Life’s a B---- don’t vote for one.”
Trump’s Scranton event was billed as a town hall, but he took no questions from the audience. Although the mogul is often interrupted by protesters, there were no intrusions at the event.
Trump didn’t spare Bill Clinton from his fusillade, shredding his prime-time speech at the convention that was meant to show the country a personal side of Hillary Clinton as a mother, wife and scholar.
“I knew that my favorite chapter would happen. And it didn’t happen,” Trump said, apparently referring to Bill Clinton’s extramarital relationships with women, including Monica Lewinsky.
Trump blamed Pennsylvania’s manufacturing job losses on the Clintons, particularly Bill Clinton’s signing of the North American Free Trade Agreement. He called himself a “messenger” fighting on behalf of “forgotten” men and women.
Trump mocked Sanders and said he “sold out” by supporting Clinton. But at the same time, he tried to woo Sanders supporters, saying as he often does that he holds similar views on trade.
The mogul also emphasized his support for building a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, a signature element of his platform.
“Who’s gonna pay for the wall?” Trump asked.
“Mexico!” the crowd shouted back enthusiastically.
Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, Trump’s running mate, introduced him. They took the stage almost an hour behind schedule.
Trump — who was slated to appear at a rally in Toledo, Ohio, later Wednesday night — concluded by telling the Scranton crowd that it is crucial for them to go to the polls to show their support.
“It’s only really a movement if we win,” he said.
Jose A. DelReal in Milwaukee contributed to this report.