Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump address the annual conference of the National Guard Association in Baltimore, while also criticizing his opponent Democrat Hillary Clinton. (Baltimore Sun video)
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, speaking in Baltimore Monday, criticized Democrat Hillary Clinton for characterizing his supporters as a "basket of deplorables," telling an audience of military leaders that the remark "disqualifies her from public service."
Appearing in Maryland for the first time as the GOP nominee, Trump told members of the National Guard Association of the United States that he was "deeply shocked and alarmed" by Clinton's characterization of his supporters — remarks she made on Friday and walked back a day later.
"Our support comes from every part of America, and every walk of life," said Trump, speaking at the Baltimore Convention Center in his first campaign event since Clinton's comments drew attention. "She divides people into baskets as though they were objects, not human beings.
"If Hillary Clinton will not retract her comments in full, then I don't see how she can credibly campaign," he said.
With less than two months to go before the Nov. 8 election, Trump is hoping Clinton's remarks will reverberate in the same way that GOP nominee Mitt Romney's "47 percent" comment damaged his campaign in 2012.
That year, Romney said at a fundraiser that 47 percent of the electorate would support President Barack Obama's reelection because they were "dependent upon government" and "believe that they are victims."
Hours before Trump arrived in Baltimore, his campaign unveiled a new television ad that hit on Clinton's comments.
"You know what's deplorable?" the narrator asks in the ad, set to run in the battleground states of Ohio, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Florida. "Hillary Clinton viciously demonizing hard-working people like you."
A spokeswoman for Clinton's campaign did not respond to a request for comment.
Trump's address Monday to current and retired National Guard officers — delivered on script and from a teleprompter — was a remarkable shift in tone after a year of campaigning in which Trump has drawn support with bombastic, irreverent rhetoric and Clinton has tried to cast herself as the candidate to bring a divided country together.
Clinton's difficult weekend began Friday with her comments at a New York fundraiser.
"To just be grossly generalistic, you can put half of Trump supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables," Clinton said. "Right? Racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic, you name it."
"And unfortunately, there are people like that and he has lifted them up," she added. "He has given voice to their websites that used to only have 11,000 people, now have 11 million. He tweets and retweets offensive, hateful, mean-spirited rhetoric."
A day later, Clinton said she regretted saying that "half" of Trump's supporters were deplorable, but said Trump "has built his campaign largely on prejudice and paranoia."
Trump visited deeply Democratic Maryland at a time when polls show a tightening race for the White House both nationally and in swing states. It followed a difficult weekend for the Clinton campaign, which also had to explain a viral video showing the former secretary of state unsteady on her feet after she abruptly left a Sept. 11 memorial ceremony.
Aides later said Clinton had been diagnosed with pneumonia, and will be back on the campaign trail this week.
It is unusual for Maryland to host presidential nominees for an event other than a fundraiser. Registered Democrats outnumber Republicans in the state two to one, and voters last selected a GOP candidate in 1988. Recent polling has found Trump trailing Clinton by 29 points here.
But Trump's message was geared for a national audience, not a local one. Though he has frequently mentioned Baltimore on the campaign trail — and has recently made an effort to reach out to African-American and Hispanic voters — he did not mention the city directly Monday.
Trump argued that Democratic policies have "produced failing schools, shrinking incomes, and the tragic poverty and joblessness in our inner cities."
He repeatedly touted the importance of the military, and said his administration would ensure the National Guard has the resources and equipment needed to carry out its mission.
He repeated an often-cited vow to defeat Islamic State fighters in Iraq and Syria without offering any specifics of how he would accomplish the goal.
"I will pledge to give you the resources, the equipment and the support that you deserve and that you're not getting," Trump told the officers. "You will have a true and loyal friend in the White House."
The association invited both Trump and Clinton to speak at its annual conference. Clinton did not appear.
Democrats focused Monday on comments Trump has made recently about the military. He said last week that its leadership had been "reduced to rubble" under Obama.
Trump has also drawn fire from Clinton supporters for saying that Russian President Vladimir Putin has been a stronger leader than Obama.
"We are talking about a person who says that our military is a disaster," said Rep. Chris Van Hollen, the Democratic nominee for Maryland's open Senate seat. "It is not the mark of a commander-in-chief to be bad-mouthing our military."
After speaking to the National Guard group, Trump made an off-schedule visit to a diner in Dundalk — a former Democratic stronghold that heavily supported the businessman in the state's Republican primary in April.
Greeted with cheers of "Trump! Trump! Trump!" the New York businessman worked the tables and sampled a hamburger and crab cake with former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., and others.
As expected, Republican Gov. Larry Hogan did not attend either the National Guard event or the diner appearance. Hogan has said he will not vote for Trump in November.
State Del. Kathy Szeliga of Baltimore County, the GOP nominee for the state's Senate seat, was also absent. Szeliga has said she will support Trump because he is her party's nominee, but she has kept her distance from him, and has disavowed his more controversial remarks.
Outside the National Guard Association conference, about a hundred Trump supporters and protesters held signs and chanted downtown. Baltimore Police said they made no arrests.
"Donald Trump is worth $4 billion and he has a real record of doing and accomplishing things," said Dan McHugh, a Rockville man who came to Baltimore on to rally for Trump. "He will bring businesses back to this country because he knows how to do it."
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