POLITICS

Pivot? Trump Doesn't Need No Stinkin' Pivot

If he was supposed to be transitioning to a "presidential" mode, Tuesday wasn't it.

29/06/2016 12:23 PM AEST | Updated June 30, 2016 00:40
ASSOCIATED PRESS
A woman reacts as she meets Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump at a rally at Ohio University Eastern Campus in St. Clairsville, Ohio, on Tuesday.

ST. CLAIRSVILLE, Ohio -- Donald Trump on Tuesday evening declared his fondness for torture, likened a new trade deal to the “rape of our country,” and joked with a man wanting a job by offering him one if he agreed to a 10 percent pay cut.

In other words: If last week was Trump's “pivot” to becoming a more serious presidential candidate, it’s been followed by a pivot right back.

The 48-minute speech to several thousand supporters crowding the Ohio University Eastern Campus’s gym was trademark Trump, meandering across topics ranging from his various successes, to the “stupidity” of the country’s leaders, to his views of torture in the fight against ISIS.

On waterboarding -- a technique that makes subjects feel they're drowning -- for example, Trump recounted what he'd said at a Republican primary debate. “I like it a lot, but I don’t think it’s tough enough,” he said to cheers and laughter.

Trump spoke hours after suicide bombers struck Istanbul's Ataturk airport, an attack that has left at least 41 people dead. He mentioned the incident near the start of his speech by pointing out that "something very bad" was going on in the world, and that America had to wake up to it. 

"Can you imagine them sitting around the table or wherever they're eating their dinner, talking about the Americans don't do waterboarding and yet we chop off heads?" he said. "They probably think we're weak, we're stupid, we don't know what we're doing, we have no leadership. You know, you have to fight fire with fire."

But it wasn't just the tragic events in Turkey that Trump alluded to in his address.

Salted throughout his speech were insults and attacks against Democratic rival Hillary Clinton -- “You think she looks presidential? I don’t.” -- as well as factually dubious claims that have become a hallmark of his campaign.

 

At one point, he claimed Syrian Christians who want asylum in the United States face far tougher hurdles than Syrian Muslims. At another, he asserted that weaponry provided to and then abandoned by U.S.-backed fighters and subsequently picked up by ISIS was somehow better than what U.S. soldiers have.

“And we fight the enemy with better equipment than we have. Their equipment is newer and better than what we have,” he said.

One notable omission: Any mention of Monday's Supreme Court ruling that struck down strict abortion clinic restrictions in Texas. Trump, who once favored abortion rights, but said when he entered the GOP race that he had changed his position, didn't issue a statement on the ruling Monday, when it was being roundly condemned by anti-abortion groups.

Even that, though, did not appear to bother fans at Tuesday's rally.

Robert McCracken, an 80-year-old retiree from neighboring Mt. Pleasant who wore a small cross on his shirt collar, called Trump a “common-sense Republican,” and said his election was the only thing that can save the country. “We’ll have the end of the American republic,” he said. “He has to win.”

And Bernard Merritt, 22, called Trump’s remarks “amazing” as he showed off a signed Trump hand towel -- the payoff for arriving five hours early and getting a spot next to the stage. “I fall in love with him every time he opens his mouth,” said the cellphone repair business owner, who drove an hour from a suburb of Steubenville to attend. “I’m going to put it in a frame and hang it up,” he said of the hand towel.

Unlike Trump’s rallies earlier in the primary season that drew a fair number of uncommitted or curious voters, his eastern Ohio speech appeared to be pulling in primarily hard-core supporters.

Brenda Johnson, 62, arose at 5 a.m. in her home in a Cincinnati suburb to drive four hours at attend her fourth Trump rally. She was in the entry line by 9 a.m. -- 10 hours before the start of the event. She said she has been a supporter since she watched a Trump speech months ago in Las Vegas about building a wall on the southern border to stop illegal immigration. “I about jumped out of my chair. Because finally somebody was saying what needs to be said," she said.

Belmont County, which includes St. Clairsville, is among the many rural, sparsely populated ones in Ohio that supported Trump over native son and statewide winner Gov. John Kasich in the March 15 primary. The area is reliably Republican, and went for Mitt Romney in 2012 by 8 points, even as President Barack Obama narrowly carried the state.

It is among the Midwestern Rust Belt states that Trump’s campaign believes he can win -- along with Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin -- because of all the manufacturing jobs that have been lost over the decades, and which Trump attributes to bad trade agreements.

“I’m not angry at Japan. I’m not angry at China. I’m not angry at Mexico,” Trump said Tuesday. “I’m angry at our leaders, who are so stupid.”

Editor's note: Donald Trump regularly incites political violence and is a serial liar, rampant xenophobe, racist, misogynist and birther who has repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims -- 1.6 billion members of an entire religion -- from entering the U.S.

This article has been updated with information about Tuesday's attack in Turkey.

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