Trump Savors "Lock Her Up" Chants at Pa. Rallies
AMBRIDGE, Pa. — Halfway through his remarks to supporters in a high school gym here Monday, Donald Trump paused for a minute to revel in the crowd’s chants.
They shouted, “Lock her up.” The Republican nominee clapped along.
“Very sad,” Trump said, swiveling back to the microphone to continue speaking. “Special prosecutor, here we come.”
At his first rally following a high-stakes town hall debate Sunday, Trump forged ahead on the path he charted on that stage — where he told Hillary Clinton, his Democratic rival, that she “would be in jail” if he were in the White House. If elected, he said, he planned to appoint a special prosecutor to further investigate her use of a private email server while secretary of state.
The moment electrified his core supporters, if the deafening cheers in Ambridge were any indication. But the statements also marked a dark turn in the campaign for president, chilling Republicans and Democrats alike who feared the precedent of threatening a political rival with prison time or a special prosecutor.
Ari Fleischer, an alumnus of the George W. Bush administration, tweeted:
Winning candidates don't threaten to put opponents in jail. Presidents don't threaten prosecution of individuals. Trump is wrong on this.— Ari Fleischer (@AriFleischer) October 10, 2016
In an interview with NBC News on Monday, Trump Campaign Manager Kellyanne Conway defended the candidate’s remarks at the debate as “a quip.” But Trump and his supporters Monday seemed not to be quipping.
As he introduced Trump Monday, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani invoked Clinton’s response to a debate question regarding her emails. “I had a federal judge call me this morning and say to me, ‘Part of that debate last night sounded like a confession to a federal crime.’ You could take that tape, and you could put it in a trial, and it would constitute a virtual confession to numerous federal crimes.”
It was not clear what incriminating evidence Giuliani was referring to.
“I’ve never seen that in a presidential debate,” Giuliani continued. “And that doesn’t even begin to examine the scope of her criminality.”
On Sunday, Clinton reiterated that she now views her email practices as having been “a mistake,” but insisted she takes classified documents “very seriously.”
Many of Trump’s supporters in Ambridge were thrilled that the Republican nominee had so directly threatened Clinton on the debate stage with legal action and even incarceration.
“I think he was just speaking the truth, because I feel the same way,” said Martin Radzanowski. “Any other person would have been brought to justice.”
Trump’s supporters also cheered another controversial turn in his campaign: his decision to target former President Bill Clinton’s sexual scandals by trotting out three women accusers at the debate and mentioning them from the stage.
As recently as Wednesday, Trump had said, “I want to win this election on my policies for the future, not on Bill Clinton’s past.” But amidst changing political tides, he has seemed to nix that philosophy.
“For decades Hillary Clinton has been deeply familiar with her husband’s predatory behavior,” Trump said in Ambridge. “And instead of trying to stop him, she made it possible for him to take advantage of even more women. She put even more women in harm’s way.”
Trump warned he would continue to hit on this theme if Clinton and Democrats attacked him for further lewd remarks.
“If they want to release more tapes saying inappropriate things, we’ll continue to talk about Bill and Hillary Clinton doing inappropriate things,” Trump said.
Among Trump supporters, few were fazed by Trump’s words in 2005 condoning sexual assault, which were published by the Washington Post. “He wasn’t a politician then, he was an ordinary guy,” said Linda Robinson. “Guys do that.”
But many supported Trump’s focus on Bill Clinton’s misdeeds and defended those attacks as relevant. “The fact that (Hillary Clinton) did not have enough self-respect as a woman to walk away from that and to leave it when it was so evident to the whole world ... I think was wrong,” said Rita Lieb.
Steered by a revamped campaign team, in recent weeks Trump had appeared newly committed to public restraint. He limited interviews to only friendly media outlets and during remarks he adhered diligently to a teleprompter. Ahead of the first presidential debate, Trump and Clinton were neck-and-neck in public polling.
But Trump’s campaign was sent into a tailspin last week by the tape capturing his remarks about forcibly kissing women and “[grabbing] them by the p----.” Panicked Republicans began to abandon Trump’s campaign en masse, even when he apologized publicly.
When Trump re-emerged in public for the second presidential debate, his restraint had evaporated, and his tone took a sharp turn heading into the final stretch of the election.
The shift was starkly apparent in Trump’s comments about jailing Clinton. When supporters chanted at the Republican National Convention this summer that Clinton should be locked up, Trump had held back: “Let’s defeat her in November, OK?” he said.
At a rally Monday night in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., Trump’s supporters again chanted, “Lock her up.”
But this time, Trump responded, “Yeah, ‘Lock her up’ is right.”