Clinton accuses Trump of 'inciting violence' with 2nd Amendment comment
Democratic nominee calls it the latest in a long line of casual comments that 'crossed the line'
Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton on Wednesday accused Republican opponent Donald Trump of inciting violence with his call for gun rights activists to stop her from nominating liberal U.S. Supreme Court justices.
Clinton's comments added to a growing outcry over Trump's remarks on Tuesday at a North Carolina rally, which some interpreted as a call for violence against his White House rival. His remarks also fuelled widespread concerns about his ability to stay on track.
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"Words matter, my friends," the former U.S. secretary of state, who rarely engages in direct back-and-forths with her Republican rival, said at a rally in Des Moines, Iowa. "And if you are running to be president or you are president of the United States, words can have tremendous consequences."
"Yesterday, we witnessed the latest in a long line of casual comments from Donald Trump that crossed the line," she said, citing "his casual inciting of violence."
Trump insisted in an interview with Fox News that his remarks were a call for political, not physical, action.
"There is tremendous political power to save the Second Amendment, tremendous," the New York businessman said. "And you look at the power they have in terms of votes and that's what I was referring to, obviously that's what I was referring to, and everybody knows it."
The U.S. Constitution's Second Amendment guarantees a right to keep and bear arms.
"I can't think of anything remotely comparable to it. No one tells a joke about the opponent getting shot. I've never heard it," said Bob Shrum, a top aide for Al Gore's presidential campaign in 2000 and John Kerry's in 2004.
Trump didn't mention the comment during campaign stops in Virginia and Florida on Wednesday.
CNN reported that the U.S. Secret Service had spoken with Trump about the comments, but late Wednesday a federal official denied the report and said no formal conversations had taken place.
During his speech in Sunrise, Fla., Trump spoke about how Seddique Mateen, the father of Pulse nightclub shooter Omar Mateen, was seated behind Clinton at a recent rally. He pointed to the crowd behind him and said "you know who's in those seats."
One person seated behind Trump Thursday was Mark Foley, a former Republican congressman who resigned in 2006 after it was discovered he'd sent explicit messages to teenage boys. No criminal charges were filed.
Disgraced former FL congressman Mark Foley is sitting behind Trump tonight in Sunshine. <a href="https://t.co/7WkiElk48E">pic.twitter.com/7WkiElk48E</a>—@KatyTurNBC
Before Trump spoke, Mike Huckabee, who ran against Trump in the primaries, told the crowd that he knew the Clintons "very well" from his time as governor of Arkansas. He said he's much more afraid of Clinton's presidency than a mosquito bite in south Florida, where the Zika virus has been discovered.
High-profile Republicans and rank-and-file voters appeared shaken on Wednesday after a string of Trump misfires, struggling with how to best reject his divisive candidacy. Some pledged to withhold their endorsement and others backed Clinton.
Some, including MSNBC host Joe Scarborough, a former Republican congressman from Florida, called for party leaders to replace Trump on the ticket.
Opening for Clinton
Clinton's campaign, seeing an opening, has moved to bring disenchanted Republicans into the fold by announcing an official intraparty outreach effort on behalf of the Democratic nominee.
Clinton's campaign now has a website for Republicans and political independents to sign up to pledge their support, listing 50 prominent Republicans and independents who have endorsed her.
On Monday, 50 Republican national security officials signed an open letter questioning Trump's temperament, calling him reckless and unqualified to be president.
Other top Republicans, including Senator Susan Collins of Maine this week, have disavowed Trump but said they cannot back Clinton.
James Rohrscheib, 74, a registered Republican and retired U.S. navy officer from Washington state, told Reuters the reality is the Nov. 8 election will be a "tough one."
"I'm in a quandary as to who I am going to vote for," Rohrscheib said.
Trump has dismissed the defections and criticism as an unsurprising reaction of the so-called Washington elite to his drive to change the status quo.
One group that appears unswayed is Trump's donors. Reuters interviewed nine major Trump donors on Wednesday, and not one said his Second Amendment comment had given them pause.
Trump Texas fundraising co-chair Gaylord Hughey called the interpretation of his remark as condoning violence "ridiculous" and "ludicrous."
"It's just another issue the press has really twisted to make headlines," Hughey said.
But Mike Smith, a Republican voter respondent, said the support Trump is still receiving from Republicans "almost seems obligatory rather than voluntary."
"I'm almost at the point where I think I'm going to vote for Hillary. I don't like her," said Smith, a 74-year-old retiree who lives in Clearwater, Fla. "But Mr. Trump is making me very nervous."
With files from CBC News