North Charleston, SC -- Donald Trump closed his South Carolina campaign on Friday with a rambling speech highlighted by a giddy, almost childlike, enthusiasm for torturing and summarily executing the suspected enemies of America in the name of safety.
Trump was in free-association mode ahead of Saturday’s primary, dwelling for an extended time on one topic, like heroin in New Hampshire or Japan's monetary policy, and then jumping to another.
“I’m really good at the trade,” the billionaire told a crowd of thousands. “I’m really good at the borders.”
The standout topic, however, was terrorism and national security. Trump repeated – favorably – an apparent myth about how General John Pershing summarily executed dozens of Muslim prisoners in the Philippines with tainted ammunition during a guerilla war against the occupying United States.
“He took fifty bullets, and he dipped them in pig's blood,” Trump said. “And he had his men load his rifles and he lined up the fifty people, and they shot 49 of those people. And the fiftieth person he said ‘You go back to your people and you tell them what happened.’ And for 25 years there wasn't a problem, okay?”
The story appears to be a hoax spread via e-mail forwards, according to rumor tracker Snopes.com, with no evidence it occurred.
The moral of the tale, according to Trump: “We better start getting tough and we better start getting vigilant, and we better start using our heads or we're not gonna have a country, folks.”
Trump was unimpressed with waterboarding, a banned interrogation tactic that he has pledged to bring back against suspected terrorists, and supplement with far worse forms of abuse.
“Is it torture or not? It’s so borderline,” he said. “It’s like minimal, minimal, minimal torture.”
In a previous speech, Trump called his opponent Senator Ted Cruz, whose father was tortured as a young man in Cuba, a "pu**y" for not sharing his zeal for the practice.
Trump went on to boast how fears of terrorism had boosted him politically, including in South Carolina where he leads a number of polls by double-digit margins.
“When Paris happened, everyone started saying, ‘We want Trump!’” he said. “The polls came in, 60 percent, 70 percent, 72 percent. This is 72 percent with 17 people running. Now we're down to 6, we got rid of all these people. It's so great. It's so great.”
He tied the San Bernardino shooting into an argument over gun rights, saying the body count could have been minimized if the office workers who were murdered had been armed.
“If there were guns on the other side pointed at the other direction so the bullets are flying both ways you, wouldn’t have had that happen,” he said.
Trump’s speech was a hit with the audience, which cheered throughout.
Trump supporter Eleanor Crume, 72, told MSNBC afterwards that she agreed with Trump’s stance on waterboarding because terrorists should not be “pampered.”
“We need someone who can lead the country because people are scared to death,” she said. “It’s only a matter of time before terrorists come and start chopping Christian heads off in the United States.”
South Carolina Lieutenant Governor Henry McMaster, Trump’s most prominent endorser in the state, set the tone for the event before Trump came on.
“How many of you feel real safe right now?”
“Nooooooooo!” the audience droned in response.
“We’re gonna change that,” he replied.