Donald Trump on Tuesday night demonstrated his ability to quell political firestorms that traditionally would have consumed a White House hopeful, mostly by throwing sand on them and in the eyes of voters.
One week before the Wisconsin primary, in what could be a make or break moment for the “Never Trump” movement, the billionaire took the stage at a CNN town hall in the Badger State amidst a swirl of controversies. His campaign manager is being charged with simple battery for grabbing a female reporter earlier this month, and Trump is in a weeklong feud with Sen. Ted Cruz (TX), his GOP rival, about their wives and their looks.
The former reality TV star dismissed calls to fire his top aide, Corey Lewandowski, because he did nothing wrong during the encounter on March 12 in Jupiter, FL. In fact, he used the town hall to ridicule the reporter, Michelle Fields, who has since resigned from the news organization Breitbart, and delivered a mocking rendition of her statement immediately following the incident, which was caught on security camera.
“She was grabbing me,” Trump said. "She was off-base. I don’t think [Lewandowski] knew her. She’s not a baby. She wasn’t yanked down.”
“My arm has never been the same, folks,” he joked, after saying Fields touched his arm.
Trump suggested she could have been carrying a “little bomb” in her hand at the time. “It could have been a knife. It might have been dangerous.
Confronted over his Tweet from last week that showed an unflattering picture of Heidi Cruz, Trump blithely shrugged off the feud.
“I didn’t start it. I didn’t start it,” he said.
“Sir, with all due respect, that’s the argument of a 5-year-old,” CNN’s Anderson Cooper responded.
“I didn’t start it. No it’s not,” Trump said.
Hullabaloos aside, the billionaire proceeded to lay out explicit, though shifting and at sometimes completely contradictory, policy positions with huge international ramifications.
Trump said he was deeply concerned about nuclear proliferation but stood by comments he made to editorial boards last week that South Korea and Japan should have atomic weapons, as well as possibly Saudi Arabia to counter Iran.
“It’s going to happen anyway,” he said.
Asked what should be the three main functions of the federal government, Trump replied security, healthcare and education. “We need healthcare for our people,” he said. “The government can lead it but it should be privately done,” he added, after describing Obamacare.
Trump muddied the waters by adding that education should be a state issue.
As he did during editorial board conversations, Trump called for ground-shaking shifts in multiple cornerstones of U.S. foreign policy – without providing any specifics. For example, NATO today is “obsolete.” However, the organization could be rejiggered by “adding different nations,” according to Trump. He didn’t name what countries those might be.
The 69-year-old contender also said the nearly 67-year-old NATO was antiquated because it hasn’t responded to the threat of terrorism, even though one of the alliance’s biggest missions in recent years has been fighting in Afghanistan following the Sept. 11 attacks.
But the shift that will likely set the most alarms ringing in Washington is Trump’s backing off the pledge to support the GOP nominee if it isn’t him.
“I have been treated very unfairly,” he said, renewing concerns among GOP officials that Trump could break away and launch a third-party bid.
Asked if he would support Cruz’s support if he clinches the 1,287 delegates needed, Trump replied. “He doesn’t have to support me … I don’t want his support. I don’t need his support.”
The developer said he wouldn’t accept backing from Cruz after the senator’s campaign spread a false rumor during the Iowa caucuses that Ben Carson had dropped out of the race. Never mind that Trump himself once compared the retired neurosurgeon, who has dropped out of the race and endorsed the frontrunner, to a pedophile.
The billionaire did likely open himself up to new attacks from Cruz and other Republicans by saying he is “somebody who believes in flexibility … I’ve changed course on many, many things.”
The only time Trump appeared flummoxed was when he was asked if he could recall the last time he apologized for something.
“Oh, wow ... Can I think? I do believe in apologizing if you’re wrong but if you’re not wrong I don’t believe in apologizing,” he explained. Then he recalled he apologized to his mother “years ago” for using foul language, and to his wife for not being presidential enough.
The frontrunner capped the night by joking that he won’t call his new grandson "Cryin' Ted” and pointed out Ted isn't Ted Cruz's birth name
“It’s Rafael, isn’t it?” he asked, setting off what likely will be the race’s next brouhaha.