Raleigh, N.C. — Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump said Thursday that transgender people should be able to use whichever bathroom they choose, and North Carolina is "paying a big price" for trying to prevent that.
Rival candidate Ted Cruz responded by calling House Bill 2 "common sense" and saying Trump was only being politically correct.
Speaking at a town hall event on NBC's "Today" show, Trump said the House Bill 2, which was approved an signed into law in less than 12 hours last month, has caused unnecessary strife.
"North Carolina did something that was very strong, and they’re paying a big price and there’s a lot of problems," he said. "The problem with what happened in North Carolina is the strife and the economic punishment that they’re taking."
Hundreds of corporations have called on state lawmakers to repeal the legislation, which requires people to use public bathrooms that match the gender on their birth certificates, excludes gay and transgender people from discrimination protections and bars cities and counties from extending such protections to them.
PayPal and Deutsche Bank have dropped plans to expand operations in Charlotte and Cary, respectively, numerous cities and states have stopped non-essential government travel to North Carolina, several trade groups have moved their conventions outside the state and performers from Bruce Springsteen to Pearl Jam have canceled concerts.
Trump said North Carolina should have just ignored the issue.
"There have been very few problems, leave it the way it is," he said. "North Carolina, what they’re going through with all of the business that’s leaving and all of the strife, and that’s on both sides, you leave it the way it is. There have been very few complaints the way it is. People go, they use the bathroom that they feel is appropriate. There has been so little trouble."
Within hours, Cruz took to social media to condemn Trump's stance, tweeting "grown men shouldn't be in bathrooms w/ little girls."
"Have we gone stark raving nuts?" Cruz asked a crowd at a campaign rally in Maryland. "Here is basic common sense. Grown adult men – strangers – should not be alone in a bathroom with little girls. That's not conservative or liberal. That's not Republican or Democrat. That's basic common sense."
Gov. Pat McCrory, who has fiercely defended House Bill 2, also disagrees with Trump when it comes to school bathrooms, campaign spokesman Ricky Diaz said.
"Governor McCrory has always said that North Carolina was getting along fine before the Charlotte City Council passed its unneeded and overreaching ordinance. Now that it has been overturned, businesses can adopt their own policies – like Target has – instead of being mandated to allow men into women's restrooms by government," Diaz said in a statement. "Where the governor disagrees with Mr. Trump is that bathroom and shower facilities in our schools should be kept separate and special accommodations made when needed. It's just common sense."
Trump said he said he is opposed to the move to create gender-neutral bathrooms open to anyone, calling that push "discriminatory in a certain way" and "unbelievably expensive for businesses and the country."
If Caitlyn Jenner, formerly Olympic gold medal winner Bruce Jenner, were to walk into Trump Tower, she could use whichever bathroom she wanted, he said.