DUBUQUE, Iowa — The day began with Donald Trump going to war with the top conservative news outlet in America. It wrapped up with Trump’s security dragging the most prominent Hispanic journalist in the country from his press conference for asking pointed questions about immigration — before letting him back in. In between, the campaign barred the state’s leading newspaper from the same event over a previous grievance.
Tuesday was just another day in the Trump campaign, with the candidate engaged in a never-ending series of feuds with reporters, campaign rivals, and critics. He kept it all simmering once again with tweets, press releases, and trash talk.
“Should we be nice or not?” Trump asked a standing-room crowd of thousands at an event hall in here as he kicked off his speech.
“Noooooooooo!” came the reply from the audience.
And so Trump launched into a winding speech in which he called Secretary of State John Kerry a “schmuck” for signing off on the Iran nuclear deal and blamed America's economic woes on "stupid people" negotiating trade deals. He took special joy in Jeb Bush’s recent struggles to defend the phrase “anchor baby,” which Trump has used frequently in arguing the 14th Amendment shouldn’t grant citizenship to children of illegal immigrants.
"[He’s] taking tremendous criticism for using the term anchor baby,” Trump said. “No one cares when I use it because they expect it."
He closed by tweaking CNN over their ratings, threatening to charge them a $10 million charitable donation for the privilege of hosting him in their debate next month. Then the audience shuffled out to Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It!”
Minutes before the speech, Trump finished a half-hour press conference in a nearby room where Univision anchor Jorge Ramos — a leading Trump critic — tried to ask a pointed question about Trump’s call to deport all undocumented immigrants. Trump refused to respond.
“Go back to Univision,” he said. “Sit down, you weren’t called.”
As Ramos continued to try and ask his question, a stocky white bodyguard with a buzz cut closed in and physically pushed him out of the room. Problem solved.
“He’s obviously a very emotional person, so I have no problem with it,” Trump told reporters when asked about the incident.
Someone in the campaign must have realized that having the most-watched Spanish-language anchorman being tossed out of an event might not help with Trump’s pledge to win the Hispanic vote — a recent Gallup poll found him at a net negative 51% approval rating, 44 points worse than any other Republican — and Ramos returned for a combative exchange with Trump over whether his immigration plan was humane and realistic. By the end, Trump was interviewing Ramos, demanding the journalist answer whether he would deport criminals (he said he would) and asking him to name the amount Trump sued Univision for over a canceled pageant event ($500 million).
It would have made a great story for The Des Moines Register, the top newspaper in Iowa, but their reporter was barred from the event over Trump’s continued displeasure with an editorial by the paper calling on him to leave the race.
Trump’s spat with Ramos (who declined an interview request with msnbc) likely served both of them well with their audiences, but is yet another headache for GOP leaders who have to deal with one more clip in a growing highlight reel of Trump antagonizing Hispanic voters.
Trump’s immigration talk has already dragged rivals to uncomfortable places this month. Last week, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who is fading in a must-win Iowa as Trump rises, said that he opposed birthright citizenship, then told the press he had no position, then clarified that he would not change the Constitution to address the issue. Bush, who opposes ending birthright citizenship, came under fire for using the phrase “anchor baby” — only to earn more condemnations from Asian-American critics after he said he was referring to narrow instances of primarily Asian elites flying to America to give birth.
The immigration issue meanwhile is catnip for Trump voters, who credit the candidate with going further than anyone in the field with his pledge to build a wall, deport all undocumented immigrants, and freeze legal immigration — prescriptions that have even the most conservative candidates in the field balking.
“They come here, they have babies, then they have the right to stay illegally,” Sandy Murray, a 50-year-old account executive from Dubuque told msnbc as she waited in a line that stretched far down the street two hours ahead of Trump’s speech. “We need the money from their handouts for education and veterans.”
The interview was interrupted when a Trump staffer asked if she wanted to stand behind him onstage. Her eyes lit up. “Yes!” she exclaimed.
None of Trump’s rivals have come up with an answer to his unrestrained style. Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry staked his campaign on an all-out effort to discredit Trump. Instead, he sank to margin-of-error territory in the polls and, on Tuesday, his prized Iowa chairman Sam Clovis defected to a national role with Trump while complaining to reporters that Perry could no longer pay his staff.
“It's time to disrupt the status quo!” Clovis told the crowd as he introduced Trump in Dubuque.
Trump tweeted with glee on Tuesday that Sen. Lindsey Graham, another hardcore anti-Trump rival, was down to 4% support in a poll of his native South Carolina. Trump led the field there.
Trump’s speech also came hours after he reignited yet another media war with Fox News host Megyn Kelly, who he previously accused of having “blood coming out of her wherever” when she questioned him about his language towards women in the Aug. 6 presidential debate. In a series of tweets, Trump said she was “off her game” after returning from vacation and — for the second time — quoted supporters who called her a “bimbo.”
Fox News CEO Roger Ailes, who negotiated a truce with Trump after the first Kelly spat, slammed Trump’s “surprise and unprovoked attack” in a statement and requested an apology. A plethora of Fox personalities from Bret Baier to Sean Hannity chimed in with mostly gentle criticism, and Trump issued a statement saying nuts to an apology and boasting about his latest poll numbers.
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For most candidates, launching an offensive against the most popular conservative media outlet in the country would be political suicide. But none of this seemed likely to hurt Trump in the eyes of his supporters, who gushed to msnbc about his take-no-prisoners style — even as some delicately suggested that he maybe tone it down sometimes.
“I love the noise he’s making,” Chris Wilson, 38, of Dubuque said.
If the polls are to be believed, Trump’s appeal extends a lot further than his rallies. A raft of surveys in recent days have shown him leading the GOP field nationally, as well as in the early voting states of Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina, by significant margins, leaving early front-runners like Bush, Walker, and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio far behind. Republican strategists who are worried that Trump is a general election loser are starting to get nervous — like, physically shaking nervous — that what seemed like a brief fling in June is turning into a live-in relationship. Everything they throw at him makes him stronger. As the candidate boasted on Tuesday, it’s still “the Summer of Trump” and there’s no guarantee the fall won’t look the same.