In a potential effort to walk back his opposition to a North Carolina law barring transgender people from using government building restrooms in line with their gender identities – or, perhaps, in a sign that he doesn’t fully understand the issue – Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump muddled his position on the controversial legislation Thursday night, saying he thinks that “local communities and states should make the decision” about where transgender people should go to the bathroom.
“I love North Carolina, and they have a law, and it’s a law that, you know, unfortunately is causing them some problems,” Trump told Fox News host Sean Hannity Thursday night in response to a question about the state’s House Bill 2. Since being adopted, the law has sparked a massive corporate backlash against North Carolina, with companies like PayPal canceling planned expansions in the state and musicians like Bruce Springsteen refusing to play there.
“I think that local communities and states should make the decisions,” he went on to say. “And I feel very strongly about that. The federal government should not be involved.”
Hannity, seeking to clarify, then said: “In other words, let the states decide, let local communities decide. Kind of like your position on education, give it back to the states.”
“Yeah,” Trump replied. “Let them decide, absolutely.”
The remarks came less than 24 hours after Trump broke with party orthodoxy on LGBT rights, telling NBC’s “Today” that HB2 was unnecessary and not worth “the economic punishment” it has produced. His Republican rival, Ted Cruz, quickly jumped on Trump’s position that transgender people should be allowed to use the restroom in accordance with their gender identity.
“Have we gone stark raving nuts?” the Texas senator exclaimed at a rally Thursday in Frederick, Maryland. He continued to hit the real estate mogul on Friday, releasing a web video that called Trump someone who “can’t be trusted with common sense.”
“This isn’t a question of left or right, or Democrat or Republican. This is basic common sense,” Cruz said Friday in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. “I am the father of two daughters, and let me tell you, nobody in their right mind wants to see a grown adult man, a stranger alone in a bathroom with little girls. And if you’re too politically correct to admit that, you got a problem.”
Perhaps it was those attacks that inspired Trump to tweak his stance on HB2 Thursday night. But his remarks on Fox News just came off as plain confusing, given that HB2 took away the power for “local communities” to decide where transgender people should be able to go to the bathroom. Indeed, the law was enacted specifically in response to a Charlotte ordinance that barred discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, among other characteristics, and it completely nullified similar municipally enforced nondiscrimination protections. So Trump’s belief that “local communities and states should make the decisions” makes no sense in the case of HB2. It is, at the end of the day, a measure that puts local communities directly at odds with the state.
Trump’s spokesperson, Hope Hicks, did not return MSNBC’s request for clarification on the issue.