NEW YORK — Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump's lead may be slipping — but his zingers are as fresh as ever.
Dr. Ben Carson is “weak on immigration, and wants to get rid of Medicare," Trump said, expressing disbelief at the former neurosurgeon's consistently strong polling. Sen. Marco Rubio is “overrated” and a "disaster with his credit card." Trump won't do an an impression of former Gov. Jeb Bush because he doesn’t “like showing a person sleeping at a podium.”
At a press conference in Trump Tower, where a massive photo of him hung overhead, Trump confidently and comfortably defended his strength in the Republican primary, even as his polling numbers slip and rival candidate Carson's lead solidifies. Back to brazen form after being comparatively subdued at the recent GOP debate, the real estate mogul fired off zinger after zinger about his rivals.
"We're doing well, and if you add Ben and myself, we're beating everybody by a lot!" Trump said with outstretched hands during a press conference held ostensibly to promote his new book. He spent about an hour speaking with the media, reveling in questions lobbed by everyone from the usual political press corp to the foreign press and entertainment reporters.
Trump spoke at length about the Republican debates, repeatedly saying he “doesn’t care” about the format of the debates, even as his campaign confirmed that they would work individually as well as with other campaigns to lobby networks on the specifics of the face-offs. Trump threatened a boycott of the last debate, and his campaign manager suggested he'd boycott the NBC News-Telemundo debate — even if the RNC revoked its promise to suspend the event.
Trump argued that Republican candidates needed a better set-up because of how the Democratic debate went.
"Hillary Clinton was given all softballs," he said. “Now that was staged by the Democrats. They did a smart thing staging, we're going to as well, but frankly I don't care that much."
Trump does, however, care about the number of candidates running, arguing that more candidates should drop out.
“If a person has been campaigning for four or five months and they’re at zero or 1 or 2%, they should get out,” he said.
Trump's formula would eliminate more than half the Republican presidential field: Lindsey Graham, Chris Christie, Rick Santorum, Bobby Jindal, George Pataki, Jim Gilmore, and John Kasich all polled below 3% in at least one of three recent surveys.
In a statement to MSNBC, Gilmore made clear he isn't taking Trump's advice about dropping out of the race. "There are many things Mr. Trump wants and isn’t going to get, including a free ride to the nomination," he said. "I will let the 75% of the Republican voters not supporting him decide who is the winner in this election. I am in this race to win it."
A spokesman for Santorum, Matt Beynon, had a similar response, doubting the validity of what he called the "Trump Doctrine." "Four years ago today Senator Santorum was at 1% nationally," he told MSNBC. "Months later, Senator Santorum was at just 3% the day he won the Iowa Caucus. Clearly, there are holes in the Trump Doctrine."
For his part, Trump seemed as undaunted as ever on Tuesday. After taking at least three "last" questions, Trump adjourned the press conference and then proceeded upstairs to sit in a luxurious leather chair and sign books for the hundreds of fans lined up outside waiting for the candidate.
"Not since 'The Art of the Deal' ... have I worked so hard on a book," Trump said of his latest tome, "Crippled America."