WASHINGTON — Donald Trump has provided the answer to three questions raised by friends and foes this week when he delivered a detailed speech outlining his economic policies on Monday:
Could he keep control of a campaign message? Answer: No.
How long would it be before he loses control? Answer: One day.
How would he lose control? Answer: In an eyebrow-raising remark about armed citizens stopping his political opponent.
Trump answered all three questions Tuesday in the lightning-quick flash of a quip about guns and politics.
After suggesting for days that the election might be stolen from him, the Republican nominee told a campaign rally that firearms owners might be the only way to stop Hillary Clinton from pushing her agenda through the Supreme Court.
Trump later said his remarks were misinterpreted. Democrats called his language dangerous. Republicans lamented another wasted campaign day, stuck in controversy rather than rolling toward a vote-winning message.
It began with Trump lamenting to supporters about what might happen if Clinton won and reshaped the court with liberal judges, who would undo constitutional gun rights: "If she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks."
He then suggested there was one possible way to stop her: "(With) the Second Amendment people, maybe there is, I don't know.''
That reference to the constitutional right to bear arms prompted very different interpretations. They ranged from some who saw it as an innocuous call for gun owners to organize politically, to others who saw it as a joke about insurrection, to those who saw it as a crack about political assassination.
There were even different reactions right where Trump was standing. A man seated behind him on stage at the North Carolina rally reacted in surprise, his mouth popping open. The man turned to the woman beside him, who was chuckling.
The Clinton campaign certainly wasn't laughing.
It said in 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." One of the staunchest gun-control proponents in Congress, Chris Murphy, tweeted, "This isn't play. Unstable people with powerful guns and an unhinged hatred for Hillary are listening to you."
Trump's campaign put out a statement blasting the dishonest media. It said Trump was making a reference to political mobilization: "Second 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."
Trump told Fox News in an interview that he was referring to the power of voters and that there couldn't be another interpretation.
Anti-Trump Republicans found vindication in their disdain for the man.
"So, the guy who just joked about armed revolt and shooting a president is the guy I'm supposed to trust with (the Supreme Court) and nukes. No," tweeted Tom Nichols, a Republican professor of national security at the U.S. Naval Academy.
Some rolled their eyes at another lost opportunity. One day after Trump delivered a long, detailed economic speech, he had barely discussed his tax-cuts-and-deregulation policies and was back to his free-form, controversy-courting speaking style.
Instead of discussing his policies, or fuelling news about the father of Omar Mateen — the terrorist shooter in Orlando — being on stage at a Clinton rally, he'd found a way to change the subject to another unscripted comment.
Meanwhile, the U.S. federal agency that looks into threats against presidential candidates was keeping a tight lip. A spokesman for the Secret Service said: "We're aware of the comment (from Trump) — and that's what we're willing to say at this time."
Trump has been suggesting in recent days that the election might be rigged, and stolen from him. If current polls hold up, his opponents wouldn't need to rig anything — survey results in recent days pointed to Trump getting thumped.
In a survey released Tuesday by NBC and the Wall Street Journal, Trump was down 10 percentage points nationally in a head-to-head matchup with Clinton. In battleground states, he was down 11 points in Pennsylvania, five in Ohio and four in Iowa. In a Quinnipiac survey, he was losing Florida by a smaller margin — just one point. The NBC/Journal poll showed his lead among men and non-college-educated voters narrowing, and his astronomical deficit among women growing.
A Democratic senator who has regularly trolled Trump during this campaign referred to the polls Tuesday. Elizabeth Warren tweeted that he sounded like a two-bit dictator: "(He) makes death threats because he's a pathetic coward who can't handle the fact that he’s losing to a girl."
Trump held an evening rally where he didn't discuss the issue.
Alexander Panetta, The Canadian Press
©2016 The Canadian Press
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