AMES, Iowa (AP) — Iowa supporters’ response to Donald Trump’s 95-minute eruption? An “ugh” and a shrug.
The reaction Friday to his speech in which the real estate mogul used a four-letter word not common to presidential campaign speeches, viciously attacked a rival and called the voters “stupid” was a mix of mild offense and resignation.
Trump’s speech, which at times seemed to edge close to meltdown territory, was a change from recent behavior for the Republican presidential contender, who has appeared to be trying to tone down his rhetoric to broaden his appeal. And it comes as the Republican establishment has been growing increasingly alarmed at his staying power.
“He did not do himself any favors when he said that. That’s not the kind of thing you need to be doing,” said Plymouth County Republican Chairman Don Kass, who is neutral in the GOP race. He said Trump’s s comments could turn off undecided voters as well as end up “galvanizing the opposition.”
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But Dick Graves, a Trump supporter who attended the rally, said that while the candidate’s comments were perhaps “a little rash,” he wasn’t offended.
“It’s Donald. And he’s an entertaining speaker. I didn’t take it too seriously,” he said.
Trump’s political demise has been wrongly predicted numerous times already. But his support only grew stronger after he repeatedly insulted popular Fox News host Megyn Kelly and after he questioned former prisoner of war John McCain’s hero status, saying he preferred people “who weren’t captured.”
In the theater at Iowa Central Community College Thursday night, the mood changed as Trump continued past his usual one-hour mark and turned his focus to lambasting Carson, the soft-spoken retired neurosurgeon whose inspiring life story and low-key approach have helped him surge past Trump in some polls.
For some of Trump’s supporters, the remarks were just the kind of outburst they were hoping he was moving past.
“I said to (my husband), ‘Why did he do that?’ He didn’t need to do that,” said Diane Jorgenson, a loyal Trump supporter from Ledyard who was working as a volunteer at the event.
While the performance won’t change her mind about supporting him, she said she’d be relaying her concerns to Trump’s team in Iowa.
In recent weeks, Trump has been spending less time lobbing insults and more time talking about how his business experience and negotiating skills qualify him for the presidency. He was visibly mellower during this week’s fourth GOP debate and told reporters he’d been trying to be nicer.
“He’s learning to tone it down,” said Debbie Mabe, a Fort Dodge Democrat and strong Trump supporter who was in the audience and had welcomed the change.
But the performance Trump delivered was far from that.
In a dramatic monologue that at times involved voices and acted-out scenes, Trump compared Carson’s childhood temperament to that of a child molester and questioned his religious conversion. He also railed against the people of Iowa as naive and gullible for believing Carson’s stories.
“How stupid are the people of Iowa?” he said. “How stupid are the people of the country to believe this crap?”
On foreign policy, Trump laid out his anti-Islamic State policy by saying he would “bomb the s— out of” their oilfields.
Trump had appeared tired Thursday and arrived unusually late for the event in Iowa — his fourth state in as many days. He’d been in Illinois Monday, appeared at the debate in Milwaukee Tuesday, and then jetted to New Hampshire, where he bragged about having had just an hour-and-a-half of sleep.
Unfazed, his team showed no signs of backing down Friday, posting an online video that continued to question Carson’s account of trying to stab a friend when he was young.
“Violent Criminal? Or pathological liar?” It asked. “We don’t need either as president.”
Carson said Trump’s broadside was “expected” in politics, but he decried “the politics of personal destruction.”
“I’m hopeful at some point that we reach a level of maturity that we can actually deal with the issues that are facing us right now and stop getting into the mud and doing things that really don’t matter,” Carson told reporters in South Carolina.
Shelby County Republican Chairman Larry Madson, who saw a clip on the news Friday morning, said he thought Trump’s insults “will wear thin with the Iowa voters.”
Even before the speech, he said, he’d been hearing from voters who like Trump, but want him to offer more detailed policy plans. “We’ve got to have more from Trump than putting people down,” he said.
Republican Party of Iowa Chairman Jeff Kaufmann dismissed Trump’s statement about voters as “ridiculous.”
“You can call us a whole lot of things out here, but stupid isn’t one them,” he said.
Lucey reported from Des Moines. Associated Press writer Bill Barrow in Greenville, South Carolina, contributed to this report.