Since Donald Trump on Tuesday appeared to suggest that “Second Amendment people” could take out Hillary Clinton if she wins the presidency, his campaign staffers and surrogates came out with conflicting explanations for the remark.
Trump staffers riffed on two basic interpretations: the campaign first said that Trump meant to call on gun rights advocates to exercise their political power and keep Clinton out of office in November, and a campaign spokeswoman later said Trump had been referencing the gun lobby’s ability to persuade senators not to confirm pro-gun control Supreme Court nominees.
And even as those staffers argued Trump was making a serious point about mobilizing to keep Clinton from winning the presidency, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) suggested that the comment was just a “bad” joke.
Trump’s campaign issued its own statement not long after his initial remarks explaining that the Republican nominee meant supporters of the Second Amendment should wield their political power to stop Clinton.
“It’s called the power of unification – 2nd 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, and it won’t be for Hillary Clinton, it will be for Donald Trump,” Trump spokesman Jason Miller said in a statement.
Running mate Mike Pence followed with a comment to NBC Philadephia that Trump was simply “urging people around the country to act consistently with their convictions in the course of this election.”
Katrina Pierson, the campaign’s national spokeswoman, told CNN that Trump was “talking about unification and coming together to stop Hillary Clinton,” who she called a “gun grabber.”
And when Sean Hannity explained to his viewers Tuesday night that Trump meant that “if people mobilize and vote, they can stop Hillary from having this impact on the court,” Trump agreed that there could be “no other interpretation” of what he said at the rally.
But Trump’s remark was still widely interpreted as a suggestion that gun owners could assassinate Clinton if she is elected president. MSNBC’s Kate Snow pressed Pierson on Trump’s phrasing Wednesday morning, noting that the order of his remarks made it seem like Trump was suggesting what “Second Amendment people” could do once Clinton was elected.
That’s when Pierson offered a completely different interpretation of Trump’s comments. She argued he was referencing the ability of the National Rifle Association to convince senators not to support any Supreme Court nominee appointed by Clinton.
“They have been able to stop senators from appointing people that are hostile towards the Second Amendment. And that’s what he’s talking about,” she said of the NRA. “That would be the only way to stop something like that happening, is if the NRA were able to get out there and stop these senators from approving anyone that was hostile to the Second Amendment because there’s a lot of political power there, even for Democrats.”
Trump surrogate and CNN contributor Kayleigh McEnany offered a similar explanation on Tuesday.
“I think he’s referring to the fact that the National Rifle Association is the most powerful lobby, hands down, in the United States,” she said. “So if anyone can stop a very anti-Second Amendment agenda, it would be the NRA and the Second Amendment folks.”
The Republican nominee’s surrogates and supporters also offered dismissive responses to and bizarre explanations for the confusion over Trump’s comment.
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) said that he did not hear Trump’s full remarks, but said it “sounds like just a joke gone bad.”
Giuliani offered up the favored explanation, that Trump was telling gun owners that they have the “power to keep [Clinton] out of office,” but added a startling aside in an attempt to back up that interpretation.
“With a crowd like that, if that’s what they thought he’d meant, they’d have gone wild,” he said on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” referring to the possibility that Trump was advocating violence against Clinton.
For his part, Sam Clovis, a senior Trump adviser, brushed off those interpreting Trump’s comment as a call for Clinton’s assassination by insisting that Trump just isn’t a great public speaker.
“When Mr. Trump speaks, it’s not as artful as a lot of people might think,” he said on CNN Wednesday morning.
Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA), an early endorser of Trump, also defended Trump by dissing the Republican nominee’s speaking skills.
“He is not a politician. He is not a person like you who’s very articulate, very well spoken,” he told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer Tuesday evening. “He’s a business person who’s running for president. So I don’t think the way he said that, and the sequence of his statements, I’m not going to judge him on that, because I don’t think that’s what he meant. And I think he can be inarticulate at times.”