RALEIGH, N.C. — Hours after Donald Trump's speech in New York, where he unleashed some of his most forceful attacks of the general election, Hillary Clinton took the stage here on Wednesday and responded with a single word: "Sigh."
"All he can do is try to distract us," Clinton told a crowd of 2,000 at the North Carolina State Fairgrounds, making particular reference to a false claim Trump made Tuesday to a group of evangelical leaders: that there's “nothing out there” about her religion. Clinton, a lifelong Methodist, has spoken for decades about her faith.
"That’s even why he’s attacking my faith." Clinton took a long pause and tilted her head to one side. "Sigh," she said, dead-panning the word into the microphone.
Clinton spoke on Wednesday afternoon with teleprompters, but the “sigh,” a campaign aide said after the speech, was not included in her prepared remarks.
Embodied in the ad-lib is Clinton's hands-off approach to Trump's sustained personal attacks, even as she intensifies her critique of his plans, rhetoric, and qualifications to be president. So far this month, Clinton has delivered a pair of major speeches against Trump, honing in first on his foreign policy credentials in a well-received address in San Diego, and second, just this Tuesday, on his economic record.
But Clinton, whose speech Wednesday focused largely on economic policy, has not engaged Trump much on his personal attacks. Last month, when he began to focus increasingly on Bill Clinton and the scandals of the 1990s, the former secretary of state made clear that she had no plans to parry with Trump on the issue.
“He can run his campaign however he chooses," she told reporters.
On Wednesday, in a speech at his hotel in SoHo, Trump attacked Clinton's immigration proposals and foreign policy decisions — including some that he supported — as well as the Clinton Foundation's acceptance of foreign donations.
Afterward, Clinton aides released a list of the "15 biggest lies in Trump's speech," describing the GOP nominee as "nutty" and full of "conspiracy theories." But at her rally Wednesday, the candidate only briefly responded to his claims, saying Trump has to attack her "personally because he has no answers on the substance."
"Look," Clinton said, "I know Donald hates it when anyone points out how hollow his sales pitch really is. And I guess my speech yesterday must have gotten under his skin, because right away he lashed out on Twitter with outlandish lies and conspiracy theories, and he did the same thing in his speech today.”
"And of course," she added, taking up his criticism of the Clinton Foundation, "attacking a philanthropic foundation that saves and improves lives around the world — it’s no surprise that he doesn’t understand these things."
Her husband's family foundation, Clinton argued, "helps poor people around the world get access to life-saving AIDS medicine." And Donald Trump, she shot back, "uses poor people around the world to produce his line of suits and ties."