Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump made an unexpected pivot during a policy-oriented economic speech Tuesday afternoon at a jam-packed Wilmington rally.
Discussing the importance of the U.S. Supreme Court and protecting Second Amendment rights, Trump suggested gun-rights advocates could take action if Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton nominated justices who would strip away their rights.
“If she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks,” Trump said. “Although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is, I don’t know.”
The crowd of roughly 7,000 supporters had a mixed reaction of laughs, applause and silence.
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“But I’ll tell you what, that will be a horrible day if Hillary gets to put her judges” on the Supreme Court, he added.
The Clinton campaign quickly responded with a statement. “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,” Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook said.
The Trump campaign quickly issued a statement saying Trump was speaking about “political power.”
And former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, a speaker at the Wilmington rally, also spoke before another Trump rally in Fayetteville and blamed Clinton’s campaign for its interpretation of Trump's comments.
“So the Clinton people — this is how corrupt they are,” Giuliani said. “... They spin out that what he meant by that was that it was a joke, and what he meant by that was that they would kill her,” Giuliani said. “Now to buy that, you have to be corrupt. ... It proves that most of the press is in the tank for Hillary Clinton. They will buy any lie, any distortion, any spin that the Clintons put out.”
Giuliani said he interpreted the comment differently. “What he meant by that was, you have the power to vote against her,” he said. “You have the power to campaign against her. You have the power to speak against her. You know why? Because you’re Americans.”
Gov. Pat McCrory and Rep. David Rouzer of Johnston County also spoke before Trump at the Wilmington rally, but didn’t respond to requests for comment about the Second Amendment remark.
The controversywas reminiscent of the uproar in 1994 when then-Sen. Jesse Helms said that then-President Bill Clinton was so unpopular among military personnel that he would need a bodyguard if he visited a North Carolina military base.
The line that led to the furor: “Mr. Clinton better watch out if he comes down here. He'd better have a bodyguard.”
Helms made the comment during an interview with The News & Observer.
Later, the North Carolina Republican said the comment was made in jest and blasted the news media for elevating it into a story.
“It was never a threat and everybody knew that,” Helms said.
On Tuesday, Trump said Clinton would hurt the middle class with high taxes and create burdensome regulations on businesses.
“If she gets elected, she will cause the destruction of this country from within. Remember that,” Trump said.
When Trump was not criticizing Clinton, he sought to build on the progress he made in a scripted appearance at the Detroit Economic Club on Monday. In Wilmington, Trump focused his attention on deregulation, a simplified tax code and a more balanced trading relationship with other countries.
“Companies are negotiating from North Carolina to move to Mexico and other places … made possible by our federal government, made possible by the people that enacted this suicidal pact (NAFTA) for our country,” Trump said.
He explained how he would force companies that leave the United States to pay a 35 percent tax on goods they sell to U.S. consumers.
Bill Bencker, a Trump supporter and small business owner who stayed outdoors during the event because of the sell-out crowd, said he has struggled to compete with rival companies because he chooses to hire locally.
The founder and CEO of Decorative Concrete Solutions in Wilmington, Bencker said he was encouraged by Trump’s recent efforts to speak more about his policies but hopes to hear more about his plans in the future.
Still, Bencker said he would “rather have somebody with passion who’s reactive than I would somebody who is stagnant.”
More than 100 protesters lined up a couple hundred feet outside UNC-Wilmington’s Trask Coliseum. .
“I really believed once Donald Trump started gaining in the polls that he would knuckle down and learn some foreign policy,” Wilmington resident Deborah Butler, 55, said. “He hasn’t. He hasn’t begun to learn anything.”
McCrory stressed the need for a president who is not from the political arena.
“We need an outsider to change Washington, D.C. now more than ever,” he said.
McCrory also said he hopes to submit a request to Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts on Wednesday to “reinstate the right for photo ID in our next election” after the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned North Carolina’s law restricting some voting methods and requiring identification at the polls.
Trump echoed McCrory’s frustrations with the court decision.
“Voter ID, what’s with that?” Trump asked. “What’s with voter ID? Why aren’t we having voter ID?”
Staff writer Colin Campbell and Tim Funk of the Charlotte Observer contributed to this report.