It was about 11 minutes into the Q&A in Donald Trump’s press conference in South Carolina yesterday when one of the reporters there had to ask the billionaire Republican presidential frontrunner the sort of question that normally doesn’t come up at a politician’s pre-scheduled press events.
“Mr. Trump,” he asked, “why are you hosting this presser today?”
It was a moment that spoke volumes about the state of the Republican primary this cycle. The room was full of cameras and reporters, but apparently, some didn’t know why they were there, other than Donald Trump was also going to be there. And the Trump campaign, evidently, hadn’t found it necessary to tell them.
“This is for Gitmo,” Trump said, referring to the U.S. Marine base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba that serves as a prison for suspected terrorists. “It’s really originally for Gitmo but you folks haven’t asked that question yet.”
Anybody watching the event might have been justly surprised to find out that the event was related to the disposition of the prisoners at the camp, which President Obama wants to close. Trump, after all, hadn’t mentioned the prison camp at all, instead spending most of the first 11 minutes of the press conference castigating his rival for the GOP nomination, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. He would ultimately go on to spend the bulk of the remainder of the event assaulting Cruz, too.
For a moment, Trump paused and paid a little lip service to the Gitmo question. Some voters in South Carolina are afraid that terrorist suspects currently held there could be transferred to federal facilities in the Palmetto State, and he promised to block any such transfers if he were president, and to reverse them were they to happen before he takes office. Gitmo, Trump said, should remain open, and possibly be expanded as more terrorists are captured.
Then it was back to his real purpose – attacking Cruz, currently his closest rival in the GOP race, and increasingly aggressive critic of the former reality television star. Trump, whose lack of self-awareness strikes many as remarkable, did not acknowledge the irony inherent in a man who has been caught in multiple outright falsehoods being upset that other candidates aren’t telling the whole truth either.
Trump had begun the event by taking a question about Cruz, and responded by calling the Texan the biggest liar he has ever met in politics. He accused him of knowingly misrepresenting Trump’s positions and reiterated his threat to sue Cruz.
“Now, he’ll apologize, but I don’t want an apology after the election,” Trump said. “I want the apology before. And if he doesn’t I’m going to bring a lawsuit because in my opinion based on what I’ve learned over the last two or three days from very top lawyers, he doesn’t even have the right to serve as president or even run as president because he was born in Canada.”
This is a long-running issue with Trump, who claims that Cruz’s birth in Canada, even though his mother was a U.S. citizen, means that he does not meet the constitutional requirement that a president be a “natural born” citizen.
When will he bring the suit?
“Pretty quick,” he said. “I do quick.”
Trump added, “He’s a lying guy. A really lying guy. Some people misrepresent; this guy’s just a plain out liar.”
Trump said that in a way, he’s actually doing Cruz a favor with the lawsuit challenging his bid for the presidency.
“So frankly…I’d probably tell him if I was advising him – other than that I’m more moral than he is in my opinion – I would probably tell him very nicely, keep your lies going. You’re going to get sued anyway, might as well keep your lies going.”
Cruz, for his part, mocked Trump on Monday, saying he had never seen the billionaire so “rattled.”
His campaign also released a new ad slamming Trump for his multiple flip-flops on various issues over the years.
South Carolinians will have to endure another four days of this before going to the polls on Saturday.