Donald Trump is lashing out against an African-American pastor who interrupted him Wednesday to chide him for campaigning in her Flint, Mich., church.
"Something was up," Trump told Fox and Friends on Thursday morning, calling the Rev. Faith Green Timmons a "nervous mess."
"I noticed she was so nervous when she introduced me," he said. "When she got up to introduce me she was so nervous, she was shaking. I said, wow, this is kind of strange. Then she came up. So she had that in mind, there's no question."
That was preceded, as Politico reported, by one of the show's hosts, Steve Doocy, referencing a Facebook post on Timmons' page that read, "HE WILL NOT USE US, WE will EDUCATE HIM!!!" Doocy asked if he thought "they were out to sabotage you." (That post no longer appears on Timmons' page.)
Recently, Trump has been trying to reach out to black voters. At an event this month at a black church in Detroit, for example, Trump said, "I'm here today to learn. ... " That more humble tone came after his broad-brush characterizations — before mostly white crowds — of black communities as having schools that are "no good," that "you have no jobs," so, "What the hell do you have to lose?"
I was in the room in Flint as a pool reporter at the time, and here's what happened: Trump visited Bethel United Methodist Church on Wednesday afternoon after briefly touring Flint's water treatment plant. (Flint has become a must-visit campaign stop this year because of its high-profile water quality crisis.)
The Rev. Timmons introduced Trump to the predominantly African-American crowd of about 50 people, and she didn't appear nervous at all.
Trump began his brief speech with a joke. "It used to be cars were made in Flint, and you couldn't drink the water in Mexico. Now the cars are made in Mexico, and you can't drink the water in Flint."
After that, Trump shifted into a version of his now-standard stump speech, blasting free-trade deals like NAFTA and pointing out that then-President Clinton completed the international trade deal.
As Trump began to criticize his opponent, Hillary Clinton, Timmons slowly walked back onto the stage.
"Mr. Trump, I invited you here to thank us for what we've done for Flint, not to give a political speech," she said.
"Oh, oh, OK, OK, OK. That's good," Trump said. "Then I'm going to go back onto Flint, OK."
"The audience was saying, 'Let him speak, let him speak,' " Trump told Fox and Friends.
That isn't true. In fact, several audience members began to heckle Trump, asking pointed questions about whether he racially discriminated against black tenants as a landlord.
And that's when Timmons — who Trump said Thursday had planned to ambush him — stepped in to defend Trump, saying the Republican nominee was "a guest of my church, and you will respect him."
"Thank you. Thank you, Pastor," Trump responded.
The pointed questions for Trump continued as he wrapped up his remarks, though — and that's the moment when the press traveling with Trump were hastily escorted out of the room.
Wednesday night, Timmons was back on Facebook.
"Had he stuck to what his camp claimed he came to do," she wrote, "we would not have had a problem! - Good night."
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Donald Trump has kept to his message recently. He hasn't picked many fights, except with Hillary Clinton. Now that's changed. Trump spoke yesterday at an African-American church in Flint, Mich., at the invitation of its pastor. Today on Fox News, Trump described it as a political trap.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "FOX AND FRIENDS")
DONALD TRUMP: When she got up to introduce me, she was so nervous, she was shaking. And I said, wow, this is sort of strange, and then she came up. So she had that in mind. There's no question about it.
SHAPIRO: NPR's Scott Detrow was at that event and saw that Trump's version of things is not exactly how it went down. Hi, Scott.
SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Hey, Ari.
SHAPIRO: So what did happen?
DETROW: Well, this was on a - about a two-hour trip to Flint, Mich., which has kind of become a go-to political stop this year because of its problems with its drinking water. Ari, you've done so much reporting on that. And Hillary Clinton's been there. Bernie Sanders was there. Now Donald Trump came.
He briefly toured the water treatment plant, and then he went to Bethel United Methodist Church, where he gave some remarks. And he actually began with a joke, saying it used to be that you could not drink the water in Mexico and that you made cars in Flint, Mich., and now it's the reverse. But then he kind of turned to a typical stump speech. He was criticizing NAFTA. He was criticizing Bill and Hillary Clinton. And that's when Reverend Faith Green Timmons walked back on stage and kind of took the microphone from Donald Trump.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
TRUMP: Now, Hillary Clinton...
FAITH GREEN TIMMONS: Mr. Trump, I invited you here to thank us...
TRUMP: Yes. Oh, oh. OK, OK.
TIMMONS: Not give a political speech.
TRUMP: OK. That's good. I'm going to go back...
TRUMP: So, Scott, today Donald Trump is saying that Reverend Timmons was hostile to him. You were there. Did she seem hostile?
DETROW: Not at all. And I should also say she did not seem nervous at all, despite what Donald Trump told "Fox and Friends." Trump is actually saying in this interview that the crowd wanted him to keep speaking.
TRUMP: I'll tell you what really made me feel good. The audience was saying let him speak. Let him speak.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Right.
TRUMP: And the audience...
DETROW: That's just not true. What actually happened was that several people in the crowd started heckling Donald Trump, started asking him pointed questions about his track record as a landlord, whether he racially discriminated. And Reverend Timmons actually stepped in there to defend Trump. She said he was a guest of the church, and they needed to treat him with respect.
SHAPIRO: What is she saying about this incident?
DETROW: Her understanding, she says, is that this was an event that was going to focus on recovery work in Flint, work that the church is doing to provide water and food and things like that. She posted on Facebook after this all went down that had Trump stuck to what his camp claimed he came to do, we would not have had a problem.
Now, some Trump supporters are pointing to a Facebook post that Reverend Timmons posted and then deleted before the event, saying, he will not use us. We will educate him. That post was in response to a lot of criticism that she was getting from inviting Trump in the first place.
SHAPIRO: Trump has been trying to appeal to African-American voters recently. How's that going overall?
DETROW: With African-American voters themselves, not too well. Trump is hardly registering in the polls with black voters. He's even lower than the past Republican nominees have been. He has been trying really hard to reach out, but he's been doing so in really harsh terms, saying that inner cities have bad schools, a terrible economy and are really dangerous. And he's been making these pitches in front of mostly white campaign trail crowds.
Trump has done some events in black settings lately. He went to a black church in Detroit. That was a visit that went pretty smoothly. This was his second visit to a black church, and this one was pretty rocky.
SHAPIRO: NPR's Scott Detrow, thanks a lot.
DETROW: Anytime. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.