Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer has condemned United States President Donald Trump’s rhetoric towards her at a campaign rally.
The Saturday night barbs, which came at an event in Michigan, included Donald Trump criticising Whitmer’s stringent response to the coronavirus, calling her “dishonest” and appearing to make light of a foiled plot to kidnap the Democratic governor.
Fourteen people, some members of a right-wing armed group, have since been charged in relation to the plot.
“They said she was threatened,” Trump told the crowd. “And she blamed me. Hopefully, you’ll be sending her packing pretty soon.”
The crowd responded with chants of “lock her up”, a refrain of a phrase used against then-candidate Hillary Clinton during the 2016 campaign.
Whitmer on Sunday told NBC that Trump’s criticism of her at the rally was “incredibly disturbing” and accused Trump of inciting domestic terrorism with his rhetoric.
Separately, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called Trump’s criticism of Whitmer irresponsible.
“The president has to realise that the words of the president of the United States weigh a ton,” Pelosi, the top elected Democrat, told ABC. “The biggest antidote to his poison is the vote,” she said.
Trump faces re-election on Nov. 3 and trails Democratic challenger Joe Biden in public opinion polls. The Republican president won Michigan narrowly in 2016, but Biden currently has an edge in that battleground state, according to recent polls.
Trump’s remarks targeting Whitmer led to chants of “lock her up” at the rally on Saturday, a phrase Trump supporters often directed at former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who lost to Trump in 2016.
Whitmer wrote on Twitter on Saturday: “This is exactly the rhetoric that has put me, my family, and other government officials’ lives in danger while we try to save the lives of our fellow Americans. It needs to stop.”
Trump and Whitmer have clashed over Michigan’s coronavirus restrictions for months.
When thousands of protesters, including armed militia members, converged on the state capitol in Lansing in April to protest Whitmer’s social-distancing measures, Trump encouraged the demonstrators, tweeting, “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!”
The conflict returned to the spotlight this month when 14 people were arrested and charged with crimes related to a plot to kidnap Whitmer.
Trump campaign senior adviser Jason Miller told Fox News that Trump had no regrets about what he said during Saturday’s rally about Whitmer, or joining in the chants.
“Not at all,” Miller said. “I think the fact of the matter is that many residents of Michigan are pretty frustrated with the governor. They want to see the state open back up.”
Trump’s daughter-in-law and campaign adviser, Lara Trump, sought to portray the incident as overblown and told CNN the president was “having fun”.
“He wasn’t doing anything I don’t think to provoke people to threaten this woman at all. He was having fun at a Trump rally and quite frankly, there are bigger issues than this right now for everyday Americans people,” she said before pivoting to saying coronavirus restrictions need to be lifted because “people want to get the country open”, she said on Sunday.
Trump, who is in the midst of a campaign push amid slumping national polls, held rallies in Michigan and Wisconsin on Saturday, where there has been a recent surge in coronavirus cases.
Mask use was mixed at both rallies, which were held outdoors and saw little in the way of social distancing.
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