AMES, Iowa – Donald Trump on Saturday made his first-ever political visit to Iowa, speaking to conservative Christians, stoking speculation about his political plans and labeling the United States a “laughingstock” during an interview with NBC News.
He warned the Family Leadership Summit in an evening speech that Republicans will have a “really tough” time in the 2016 presidential race if Hillary Clinton runs. He said the Senate’s immigration bill “could be a death wish” for the Republican Party but insisted the GOP has to do “the right thing.” And he bragged about buying the old Post Office building in Washington: “You have the White House, you have Congress and I’m building right in the middle!”
In an interview after the speech, Trump said he’s focused on midterm elections for now, not the 2016 presidential race (though he declined to say which GOP Senate races or candidates he finds promising in 2014). He declined to elaborate on what immigration reform proposals he might back. And he said Sen. Rand Paul’s fight with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie over national security and civil liberties is “probably bad overall for the Republican Party.”
Summing up his view of the U.S., Trump said, “we used to be the king and the queen all put together, and now we’re a laughingstock as a country.”
Trump’s Iowa visit comes after he toyed with running for president in 2012. He ultimately decided against it, but his brief maybe-campaign included helicoptering in and out of New Hampshire—a scene that played out on split screens when President Barack Obama held a simultaneous press conference to release his Hawaii birth certificate.
Trump had been pressing for Obama to release that document—pushing a widely debunked theory that Obama wasn’t born in the United States.
The real estate mogul never made it to Iowa that year. On Saturday, Trump arrived in Ames on his private plane shortly before he was scheduled to speak, addressed the crowd for about 40 minutes, then spoke with local and national media. Then he flew back to New York.
Trump’s keynote address came after speeches by Sen. Ted Cruz and former Sen. Rick Santorum—the 2012 GOP Iowa caucus winner.
After his address, Trump said summit organizer Bob Vander Plaats, an Iowa evangelical leader, asked him to make the visit. Trump insisted the Iowa trip wasn’t about 2016.
“I’m looking at ‘14 and helping a lot of friends of mine that are running and a lot of good people that are running. It’s just too far away. 2016 is very far away,” he told NBC News.
Trump said that he believes the GOP has “a pretty good chance” of regaining the Senate majority in 2014, a top goal for national party leaders. But he declined to specify which races could be competitive.
“Well I think you have six or seven states—I won’t mention the states cause I don’t want to put pressure on anybody, but I think you have six or seven states where you could really have in a couple of cases upsets, really, and you could have some good victories for the Republicans,” Trump said.
For more on Donald Trump’s address to Republicans visit NBCnews.com.