It turns out we were premature yesterday when we declared that Donald Trump had stepped on the message of his latest “reset” by following up his Monday economic address with a tweet suggesting Hillary Clinton’s emails got an Iranian scientist killed. Or, to be more precise, if that amounted to stepping on his message, on Tuesday, he buried it in concrete.
During a rally in Wilmington, North Carolina, the Republican nominee repeated the falsehood that Hillary Clinton wants to abolish the Second Amendment, adding, “If she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks. Although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is, I don’t know.” His surrogates scrambled into their now familiar, if not especially effective, cleanup mode, insisting Trump was only referring to the voting power of gun-rights advocates. It’s clear from Trump’s statement, however, he was discussing a scenario in which Clinton had already been elected.
So it seems the Republican nominee was suggesting — jokingly or otherwise — that Second Amendment supporters could take violent countermeasures against Clinton or her judicial nominees.
The problem for the Trump campaign is that the episode fits an established pattern: The candidate says something outrageous, setting off a media firestorm that swallows the news cycle; his surrogates try to douse it by claiming he didn’t say what he appears to have said; Trump himself refuses to clarify or apologize and instead blames the “biased media” for twisting his words; rinse, repeat. The process has played out so frequently that the candidate is long past the point he can expect the benefit of the doubt from those covering him. And in this case, the comment fits into a history of remarks that Trump has made throughout the campaign condoning violence as a legitimate means of political expression.
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Most frustrating for Republicans desperate for Trump to reverse his campaign’s spiral, each new blowup ensures the GOP standard bearer isn’t training attention on his opponent’s still-glaring vulnerabilities. This week, for example, instead of flirting with incitements to violence, Trump could have been talking about the latest twist in Clinton’s email morass.
Watch Donald Trump’s controversial Second Amendment comments:
Newly-disclosed State Department emails show that in the early days of Clinton’s tenure, her aides were coordinating with Clinton Foundation operatives, raising questions about whether foundation donors were rewarded with inappropriate access to top diplomats. A competent candidate would hammer the Democratic nominee over the revelation, keeping the focus on her basement-dwelling trustworthiness marks. As we’ve seen and as we’ve said, Trump isn’t such a candidate.