VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — In his first public event since last week’s deadly ambush of Dallas police officers, Donald Trump on Monday called for an end to hostility to the nation’s law enforcement and insisted that he is the “law and order” candidate in the presidential race.
Speaking to an invited audience in what is expected to be a battleground state this fall, Trump was here to promote his proposals for improving care for the nation’s military veterans. But the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, who read from a teleprompter, kicked off his remarks with a lengthy statement of support for the country’s law enforcement officers amid turmoil prompted by a spate of deadly police shootings.
Trump called last Thursday’s ambush in Dallas, which left five police officers dead and several others injured, “an attack on our country.” He likened the current mood among many toward law enforcement officers to the harassment and hostility faced by soldiers serving in the Vietnam War, which he described as an “ugly chapter” in the nation’s history.
“America’s police and law enforcement personnel are what separate our civilization from total chaos and the destruction of our country as we know it,” he said. “It is time for hostility against our police and against all members of law enforcement to end — and end immediately, right now.”
Trump said he was “disturbed” by the images of last week’s deadly police shootings in Louisiana and Minneapolis, which were captured on video, and declared that “a lot of work” needs to be done to make sure all Americans “feel their safety is protected.” The police shootings left two African-American men dead and sparked protests across the country.
Echoing remarks he has made previously on the campaign trail, the GOP hopeful called for rebuilding the nation’s inner cities, which he said have been stricken by “an epidemic of violence,” fear and poverty that is destroying the hopes and dreams of young Americans.
“Our inner cities have been left totally behind, and I am going to fight to make sure every citizen in this country has a safe home, a safe school and a safe community,” Trump said. “We must maintain law and order at the highest level, or we will cease to have a country.”
“Without safety,” he added, “we have nothing.”
Reviving criticism of his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, Trump said the scandal involving her use of a private email server not only shows that she does not have the judgment needed to protect the country, but that she also lacks the ability to unite the country.
“Hillary Clinton … is weak, ineffective, pandering and, as proven by her recent email scandal — which was an embarrassment not only to her but to the entire nation as a whole — she’s either a liar or grossly incompetent. One or the other. … Personally, it’s probably both,” Trump declared.
The Justice Department said last week that it would not charge Clinton or her aides for setting up a private email system for her official business in the State Department. FBI Director James Comey nevertheless sharply criticized Clinton and said some of her messages contained classified information.
Trump argued Monday that the Justice Department’s decision proved that Clinton is part of an unfair system in which justice is not handed down equally. He vowed that he would not only be the “law and order candidate” but “also the candidate of compassion” who would be tough, fair and “protect all Americans.”
That message was echoed by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who preceded Trump onstage here. Christie, who is being vetted as a possible Trump vice presidential pick, spoke of the “extraordinarily troubling time” facing the country and declared Trump to be the candidate who would put the nation’s “safety and security” and “the rule of law” first.
Christie is the third potential running mate to join Trump on the campaign trail. Last week, the New York real estate mogul campaigned with former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker. Corker later removed himself from consideration.
On Tuesday, Trump is scheduled to appear with another prospective running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, who will campaign with the GOP hopeful at a fundraiser and later a rally north of Indianapolis.