Donald Trump doesn't think Hillary Clinton should be shot, but he does want to give a special shout-out to one of his supporters who has famously advocated for the shooting of Hillary Clinton.
In case you've been busy watching Michael Phelps and the U.S. gymnastics team make Olympics history, here is the background: The Trump controversy du jour is a comment he made in Wilmington, North Carolina on Tuesday in which he appeared to entice some of his supporters to shoot Hillary Clinton.
Speaking about the prospect of Hillary Clinton winning the 2016 election and appointing judges to the Supreme Court, Trump told a crowd of supporters, “If she gets to pick her judges ― nothing you can do, folks. Although, the Second Amendment people. Maybe there is. I don’t know.”
Observers quickly pointed out that those comments appear to suggest that Trump thinks that the solution to keeping a victorious Hillary Clinton from appointing judges to the Supreme Court somehow involves his supporters taking up arms against her.
The Trump campaign has so far been defiant in responding to the controversy, saying that Trump was actually just speaking off the cuff about gun-rights voters supporting his candidacy over Clinton's in November. Set aside for a second the fact that Trump's hypothetical assumes that Hillary Clinton has already won the November election and is picking Supreme Court Justices, the campaign's response does, at least, seem to be taking the bold position that shooting a presidential candidate is bad.
In any other election cycle, you could maybe give the campaign the benefit of the doubt that they do not actually condone gun violence against their opponent. But this is 2016, and sure enough, the Trump campaign's denials are belied by the candidate's continued embrace of a supporter who has been very clear in calling for Hillary Clinton's execution.
You may recall that during the Republican convention earlier this year, a high-profile Trump supporter named Al Baldasaro, who has appeared on stage with Trump at least one event, told a radio host that "Hillary Clinton should be put in the firing line and shot for treason." His comments were first reported by Buzzfeed. Later asked if he stood by those comments, Baldasaro replied, “Without a doubt.” He even expanded on the original call for violence, telling the Daily Beast, "Anyone that commits treason should be shot. … I believe Hillary Clinton committed treason. She put people in danger. When people take confidential material off a server, you’re sharing information with the enemy. That’s treason.”
Trump campaign spokeswoman Hope Hicks responded to Baldasaro's call for Hillary Clinton's execution by saying, "We’re incredibly grateful for his support, but we don’t agree with his comments." Strangely enough, the campaign did not feel the need to completely distance itself from a man who had called for Hillary Clinton's death by gunfire multiple times. But it gets even stranger.
At a campaign rally in Windham, New Hampshire on Saturday, weeks after Baldasaro's controversial comments and just days before Donald Trump's own, Trump took a break from his prepared remarks to give Baldasaro a personal shout-out . “Al has been so great,” Trump told the crowd. “Where’s Al? Where’s my vet?” After Baldasaro had made multiple calls for Hillary Clinton to be shot, Trump was still describing him as "so great."
One might think that a candidate under scrutiny for possibly inciting his supporters to shoot his opponent would take any opportunity to distance himself from a high-profile supporter who believes Hillary Clinton should be shot. But then again, this is 2016.
Asked for comment on Wednesday, the Trump campaign declined to give any on-the-record comment as to whether or not Baldasaro continues to have a relationship to Trump or the campaign and whether or not Trump still believes Baldasaro has been "great."