Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump has built a lead in polls by tapping into voters’ worries the United States has faltered under Democratic President Barack Obama.
Trump continued to hit on that theme Thursday, speaking to 1,400 supporters in Greenville who the New York real estate mogul and reality TV star called the "silent majority."
"We don’t have victories anymore," Trump said. "We used to have victories."
Trump brushed off criticisms by other Republican candidates, including U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham of Seneca, that his tone in speeches is too mean-spirited.
"There’s no energy," Trump said of his GOP rivals. "We need tone. We need tough tone."
During the $35-a-plate Upstate chambers of commerce luncheon, Trump breezed through how he could handle foreign threats, including Russian President Vladimir Putin’s expansionist policies.
"We’re like bad checker players, and we’re playing against Putin," he said. "Why isn’t Germany helping? Where are the Europeans?"
Trump said the U.S. economy is being hurt by Chinese manipulation of that country’s markets and currency, adding he will fight those moves. "China is taking money like candy from a baby’s pocket."
He questioned President Obama’s plans to host the Chinese president for a state dinner next month.
"They probably leave and say, ‘What a bunch of dopes,’ " Trump said. "I just wish our leaders were smarter."
The mane? Toupee or real?Trump’s populist stances struck a chord with the half of the audience who bought tickets available to the public.
Trump received his only mid-speech standing ovation when he talked about refusing a $5 million contribution from a donor.
“I said, ‘What’s the point?’ Because he would come in to me two years, three years, four years and want something, and it may not be for the good of the country,” he said. “And I want to do what’s best for the country.”
He also showed off a bit of Trump the entertainer.
In the lightest moment of his 50-minute speech, Trump ripped into a New York Times story about Hispanic criticism of his immigration policies that included a quote saying that he wears a toupee.
Then, Trump asked Mary Margaret Bannister, wife of S.C. House Majority Leader Bruce Bannister, R-Greenville, to leave her seat in the audience and test his hair to see if it is real.
"Yes, I would say it is," Bannister said after touching Trump’s head.
‘You’re fired’Hours before Trump’s speech, supporters lined up outside the TD Convention Center, praising the businessman, in part, for not holding back his opinions.
That response to Trump’s approach suggests S.C. voters again might favor an anti-establishment GOP candidate. Trump holds a commanding lead in a new statewide poll, and, in 2012, S.C. GOP primary voters gave renegade Republican Newt Gingrich a win, rejecting Mitt Romney, the establishment’s candidate and eventual party nominee.
"He’s not a politician," Bill Strydesky, a Myrtle Beach artist, said of Trump. "He’s had his financial ups and downs, and can relate to a lot of us. The only difference is the number of zeros in his bank account."
Trump’s candidacy has reinvigorated some voters, including Greenville manufacturing worker Jean Miller, who said she rarely has cast ballots in presidential elections. Miller said she likes Trump because he plans to halt welfare cheats and defeat radical Islamists.
"If he gets in there, he will do everything he says he’ll do," said Miller, who arrived at 7:30 a.m. for Trump’s noon speech. "If he’s in the White House and things don’t go his way, he’s going to say, ‘You’re fired.’ "
However, supporters said Trump is more than his ‘You’re fired’ catchphrase from his reality television show.
"He is Hollywood, but I’m OK with that," said Kandee Parker, a small business owner from Isle of Palms. "Wasn’t (Ronald) Reagan a brand? … I’m honored that he would step away from his wonder life and take time away from his kids and grandkids, and clean up this nasty mess."
Backers said they discount criticism of Trump’s answers to policy questions as sometimes glib and short on specifics.
Experience does not matter in the race for the White House, said Mack Murray, a retired tire plant worker from Taylors.
"There’s not a single person running who’s been president," he said. "To me, it’s disingenuous to say he’s not qualified."
Many supporters at the event — held in the heart of South Carolina’s socially conservative Upstate — said they were not concerned over questions about Trump’s religious credentials. Trump, a Presbyterian, has said he attends church as often as his schedule permits.
"I’m a Christian. I would like for him to be a Christian. But we’re not hiring him as pastor," said Jan Horne, a Newnan, Ga,. videographer who drove to Greenville for the rally. "In my book, if he just respects our religion, that’s enough."
Graham? ‘Terrible’The Greenville stop was Trump’s second to South Carolina since formally announcing his White House bid.
During a July visit to Bluffton, Trump called South Carolina’s Graham an “idiot” and gave out the senator’s cell-phone number.
Speaking just 50 miles from Graham’s Seneca home, Trump did not hit the state’s senior senator as hard Thursday, though Trump cited his large lead in a recent S.C. poll.
Trump is favored by 30 percent of likely S.C. Republican Primary voters, according to a Monmouth University poll released this week. Graham received only 4 percent support in his home state, tied for seventh.
“I would not want to be him and running for office in South Carolina,” Trump told reporters after his speech. “I think he’s been a terrible representative for South Carolina.”
Trailing Trump in the most recent poll were retired surgeon Ben Carson at 15 percent and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, once the S.C. polling leader, at 9 percent.
During his speech Thursday, Trump bragged about attracting a larger crowd than Bush drew to a similar Upstate chamber event.
"We’re just tired of politicians who don’t know what they’re doing, other than getting re-elected," he said.
Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump met with reporters after his speech at an Upstate chambers of commerce event Thursday in Greenville:
On the S.C. Republican Party’s requirement that candidates in the state’s GOP primary pledge not to mount a third-party run: "We have plenty of time to think about it. It’s Sept. 30 (the deadline to register for the S.C. GOP primary)."
On Republican presidential opponent Lindsey Graham, a U.S. senator from South Carolina: “His line is to attack Donald Trump. And the beauty is that he went down to zero (in national polls). I don’t know how you get zero. I think it’s really getting to be a point where it’s almost laughable.”
On guns, after the Wednesday killings in Roanoke, Va.: "What happened in Virginia is absolutely terrible. … At the same time, it’s not about the guns. It’s about mental instability. It’s a shame because if you look at this man that did this horrible act, people knew that he was mentality unstable for years. And it’s a shame he couldn’t have been in a hospital."
On ensuring the interests are addressed if he’s elected president: "Nobody will take care of women (better). I cherish women, and I say it all the time. And I won’t be going around saying I’m not going to fund a certain program. Women, under my administration, will be taken care of."
On the possibility of selecting GOP presidential rival Ben Carson as his vice president: "He’s a very fine man. He’s a friend of mine. He’s doing well also. (But) I’m not thinking about (vice presidential picks) right now."
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