Donald Trump said Wednesday that top Republicans need to toughen up and that he may have to lead the GOP “alone,” heightening tensions with his party’s leaders at a time when they have stepped up their criticism of his controversial statements.
Speaking at an afternoon rally here, Trump let loose a scathing attack on his fellow Republicans. He did not name anyone in particular.
“You know the Republicans, honestly, folks, our leaders, our leaders have to get tougher,” he said. “This is too tough to do it alone, but you know what? I think I’m going to be forced to. I think I’m going to be forced to. Our leaders have to get a lot tougher.”
He added: “And be quiet. Just please be quiet. Don’t talk. Please be quiet. Just be quiet to the leaders because they have to get tougher, they have to get sharper, they have to get smarter.”
The remarks came a day after many congressional Republicans, including House Speaker Paul Ryan (Wisconsin), denounced his response to the deadly mass shooting in Orlando, Florida. Ryan took issue with Trump’s proposed ban on Muslim immigrants. And many shook their heads at his suggestion that President Barack Obama may be sympathetic to terrorists.
The period of unease comes on top of a nearly two-week stretch during which Trump’s repeated attacks on a judge of Hispanic descent were widely condemned, forcing him to clarify his stance and vow to move past the episode.
Trump suggested more than once Wednesday that he might be on his own – a posture that threatens to further erode his fragile relationship with the Republican establishment.
“We have to have our Republicans either stick together or let me just do it by myself,” he said. “I’ll do very well. I’m going to do very well. OK? I’m going to do very well. A lot of people thought I should do that anyway, but I’ll just do it very nicely by myself.”
At his rally, Trump also went after Obama and Hillary Clinton, claiming they have not fought against the threat of terrorism vigorously enough. And he argued that if patrons of the Orlando nightclub where at least 49 people were massacred had been armed, the shooting would not have been as bad.
In Hampton, Virginia, on Wednesday, Clinton reiterated her critique of the ideas that Trump has presented to combat terrorism, which she described as “inflammatory,” “wrong” and “dangerous.”
Days after she delivered two speeches in which she sharply criticized Donald Trump over his approach to national security, Clinton’s five-person panel discussion in one of the nation’s most concentrated hubs of service members and military families took a different approach to drawing a contrast with Trump.
Clinton had come, she told the small room of invited guests, to “do a lot more listening than talking.”
“After all the Twitter rants and conspiracy theories we’ve been hearing recently, it’s time for a substantive discussion about how we protect our country,” Clinton said, characterizing Trump’s response to the Orlando massacre that left 49 dead on Sunday.
Joined by a former military officer, a military spouse, former enlisted service members and Virginia’s first lady, Dorothy McAuliffe, Clinton delved deep into policy for over an hour. The conversation shifted from sequestration cuts to military programs to health care to the availability of jobs near military bases.
There was no doubt, however, that Clinton was focused squarely on Trump.
In particular, Clinton said his proposed ban on Muslims entering the United States demonstrated that he did not grasp what was necessary to combat terrorism.
She noted that the attacker in Orlando was born in the United States, specifically in Queens – just miles from where Trump was born.
“A ban on Muslims would not have stopped this attack. Neither would a wall. I don’t know how one builds a wall to keep the Internet out,” Clinton said. “Not one of Donald Trump’s reckless ideas would have saved a single life in Orlando.”
“It’s just more evidence that he is temperamentally unfit and totally unqualified to be commander in chief,” she added.
Trump spoke at the historic and cavernous Fox Theatre. Unlike many of his rallies, which are often held in big open spaces where supporters stand up, many in the crowd were seated.
Some supporters munched on popcorn from the concession stand as they filed in to hear Trump speak.
As a parade of speakers warmed up the audience before Trump took the stage, supporters broke into periodic chants of “USA!” and blurted out conservative catchphrases.
“Impeach Obama!” one man yelled out.
“Build that wall!” bellowed another, referring to Trump’s proposed wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
One of Trump’s introductory speakers was Herman Cain, who ran for president in 2012. Cain, who is black, said Trump “is not a racist.”
The Manhattan real estate mogul said during his speech that he would “save” the Second Amendment. Then he reflected on Sunday’s deadly mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando.
“If some of those great people that were in that club that night had guns . . . you would have had a situation, folks, which would have been always horrible but nothing like the carnage” that ensued.
Trump has increasingly framed his proposed ban on Muslim immigration as a pro-LGBT, pro-woman policy that would protect vulnerable groups.
“When I say ‘make America great again,’ it’s for everybody. We have to say for everybody,” Trump said.
Rather than letting in Syrian refugees, whom Trump says could be entering the country with terrorist aims, the mogul said that the United States should aim to build safe zones abroad where the refugees can be held.
“Build them over there. Build them in Syria, build them in places over there,” he said.
Trump riffed for several minutes about the term “radical Islamic terrorism,” chastising Obama and Clinton for their reluctance to use the phrase. The two have described the phrase as imprecise, though Clinton has recently begun using the more accepted term “radical Islamism.”
“Unless you’re willing to discuss and talk about the real nature of the problem, and the name of the problem, ‘radical Islamic terrorism,’ you’re never going to solve the problem,” Trump said.
Trump said that the United States should be more aggressive in its surveillance of domestic Muslim populations.
“We aren’t vigilant and we aren’t smart. And we have to go and we have to check, respectfully, the mosques,” he said.
Trump was interrupted several times by protesters as he spoke. One yelled out that presumptive Republican nominee was lying. The protests picked up in frequency and intensity as the rally went on, reaching a peak about a half hour in, then tailing off.
“Be nice to our protesters,” Trump said during one episode.
He added: “By the way, is there any better place to be than in a Trump rally?”
(c) 2016, The Washington Post · Sean Sullivan, Jose A. DelReal, Abby Phillip