Wilmington, N.C. — Weeks after suggesting that Russia spy on his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump again created a national furor Tuesday when he said "Second Amendment people" might be the only way to prevent Clinton from appointing liberal federal judges.
Trump was speaking to a packed house at the Trask Coliseum at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, ticking off differences between him and Clinton when he said she wanted to "essentially abolish" the right of Americans to own and carry guns.
"If she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks," he said. "Although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is, I don't know."
Clinton's campaign quickly called Trump's comments "dangerous," saying he was suggesting violence against her, a claim his camp flatly denied.
Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who introduced the billionaire businessman in Wilmington and at a second rally in Fayetteville, blamed the media for the controversy.
"What he meant by that was you have the power to vote against her. You have the power to campaign against her. You have the power to speak against her," Giuliani said in Fayetteville. "So, the Clinton people – this is how corrupt they are – they spin out that what he meant by that was – it was a joke – what he meant was they would kill her. To buy that, you have to be corrupt because, if you said that to me, I would say, 'Are you out of your mind?'
"I saw it, I heard it, I know what he meant," Giuliani continued. "So here's what it proves: 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."
Trump steered clear of the controversy during his evening appearance at Crown Coliseum in Fayetteville, saying only that the Second Amendment would be "under siege" if Clinton is elected.
His running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, said Trump was talking about the clear election choice for pro-gun voters, not encouraging violence against Clinton.
"Of course not," Pence said in an interview with NBC Philadelphia. "Donald Trump is urging people around this country to act consistent with their convictions in the course of this election."
The National Rifle Association, the gun lobby that has endorsed Trump, also came to his defense, tweeting that "there's nothing we can do" if Clinton is elected while urging voters to defeat her in November.
That wasn't enough to quell the firestorm, however.
U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine, the Democratic vice presidential nominee, said "of course" the Republicans were trying to explain away Trump's comments, but "I think it was just revealing ... and I don't find the attempt to roll it back persuasive at all."
The U.S. Secret Service, responsible for both Clinton's and Trump's protections, said it was aware of what Trump had said but declined to say whether it planned to investigate.
Clinton has made her support for gun rights a key piece of her stump speech in a bid to pre-empt attacks from Trump and groups like the NRA. Still, she supports reinstating a federal assault weapons ban, expanding background checks and barring purchases by domestic abusers, among other steps.
Trump backs voter ID
Trump's double-header in the state comes two weeks after he appeared in Winston-Salem and Charlotte. Pence also was in Raleigh last week. Trump acknowledged the critical importance North Carolina will play in the November election.
"We're going to be coming to North Carolina a lot," Trump told the Wilmington audience. "It's very important. We've got to win it."
The crowds in Wilmington and Fayetteville both roared as he went through each of his usual talking points: a border wall with Mexico, expanding the economy, a stronger military, better care for veterans, gun rights, repealing the Affordable Care Act, halting the relocation of Syrian refugees and others in the U.S., renegotiating trade deals, lower taxes and blasting Clinton's record as a U.S. senator and President Barack Obama's secretary of state.
"Hillary Clinton is going to be four more years of Obama but maybe worse," Trump said. "If she gets elected, she will cause the destruction of this country from within.
"To think that she's even allowed to run for president is an embarrassment for the country, and it always will be."
Trump flipped the script on Clinton, saying she lacks the judgment and temperament to be president – criticisms frequently directed at him.
"She has the temperament of a loser. I have the temperament of a winner," he told the Fayetteville audience.
He and Giuliani both said Clinton is beholden to too many special interests to accomplish anything that will help the U.S.
"Hillary Clinton is the bought and paid for candidate of the Washington establishment," Giuliani said. "She's part of the rigged system."
Trump also came out in favor of North Carolina's voter ID law.
"Why are we having voter ID?" Trump asked the Wilmington crowd. "I want to vote; here's my identification. As opposed to someone coming up and voting 15 times for Hillary. I won't tell you to vote 15 times. ... You won't vote 15 times, but people will. They'll vote many times."
He criticized a recent federal court ruling that overturned voter ID and other changes to North Carolina election laws, finding that lawmakers adopted them in an effort to keep black voters from the polls.
"Maybe they can get a stay. Let's see what happens," he said, referring to Gov. Pat McCrory's plan to appeal the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court.
In addition to voter ID, a new element Trump included in his stump speech was part of the economic plan he outlined Monday – making child care expenses tax deductible for working families. But he didn't elaborate on the proposal.