NEW YORK – In a move that appeared to rule out an independent run for the presidency, Donald Trump displayed for an overflow press conference in the lobby of Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue the pledge of “allegiance to the Republican Party” he signed – and it was only hours later the potshots from political and media foes trickled onto social media.
Responding to a reporter, Trump declared he had intention of withdrawing his pledge of support for the eventual GOP nominee for president.
“The best way for the Republicans to win is if I win the nomination and go directly against whoever [the Democrats] put up, and for that reason I have signed the pledge,” the billionaire real-estate developer said.
“So, I will be totally pledging my allegiance to the Republican Party and the conservative principles for which it stands, and we will go out and we will fight hard and we will win. We will win, and most importantly we will make our country great again,” he said.
MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow gave a blunt assessment of Trump’s pledge, wondering why a candidate who’s been riding an anti-establishment wave to the top of the presidential polls would do something so establishment, and saying on her show: “Yoooge screw up.”
And Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor who’s fighting strong to boost his poll numbers for president against Trump, weighed in on the billionaire’s pledge just hours after the press conference via Twitter.
In a tweet, Bush posted a photo of a piece of paper that was signed by him and read: “Voted Republican since 1972.”
The brief note was ostensibly aimed at Bush’s campaign criticisms of Trump as a newbie conservative who has donated just as much to Democrats as Republicans. Bush, who trails Trump by double-digits in several presidential polls, has tried to paint himself as the candidate of strong conservative principles that have been tested and found true for decades.
Fueling that particular fire is the fact that Trump has refused for weeks to definitively rule out a third-party run, much to the chagrin of the the Republican National Committee. He was the only candidate at Fox’s GOP debate Aug. 6 who said he would not be willing to agree to such an agreement.
But he declared Thursday: “If I’m the nominee, I will pledge I will not run as an independent.”
The press conference followed a meeting Trump held with Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, who in recent days has pressed all GOP candidates to sign.
“All I wanted was fairness from the Republican Party,” Trump said, explaining why he apparently changed his mind. “I don’t have to be treated differently than anyone else.”
Asked if he signed the pledge to receive GOP funding, Trump took the opportunity to stress he does not need or want campaign funding from anyone, including from the GOP.
“This is a self-funded campaign,” he said. “I don’t need money. I don’t want money. This is going to be a campaign like no other. I’m not controlled by lobbyists. I’m not controlled by anybody. I got nothing for signing the pledge other than the assurance I would be treated fairly.”
Throughout the press conference, Trump took several jabs at rival Jeb Bush, the former governor of Florida. Trump rebuked Bush for saying in Spanish earlier this week in Miami, “El hombre no es conservador.” It means “the man,” namely Trump, “is not conservative.”
“We’re an English-speaking nation and I think while we are in this nation, we should be speaking English,” Trump said.
Trump repeated that while he thinks Bush is “a very nice person,” he is also “a very low-energy person.”
“I hear Jeb Bush is going to spend a lot of money on negative ads attacking me,” Trump continued. “Honestly, Bush is getting the money from lobbyists and special interests, and I don’t know if he plans to spend $20 million or more on adds against me. But Bush probably has to do that because he was supposed to be the leading candidate now.
“Jeb Bush was supposed to win, but he doesn’t have the energy,” Trump stressed. “But what he does have is a lot of money that was given to him by special-interest donors and lobbyists. I just hope that if Jeb Bush does spend money on ads, he spends them on positive ads, not on ads attacking me.”
Trump then insisted that every GOP candidate that has attacked him has ended up hurting himself.
“They have all ended up going down the tubes,” he said. “Lindsay Graham attacked me when he was at 3 percent in the polls, and now he’s down to zero. Governor Perry attacked me, and he’s down to zero, Rand Paul, by the most recent polls, is down to 2 percent.
Trump insisted that the lobbyists have “total control” over every candidate that takes special-interest money, mentioning in particular Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton.
“Nobody is putting up money for me; I’m putting up my own money,” he said to applause from the audience. “In fact, when you’re in first place, you can collect so much money. I’ve been offered millions and millions of dollars. But I keep turning it down, and I’m starting to feel very foolish. I’m the only self-funder. I have nothing to do with the Super-PACs that are forming for Trump. I’m paying for my own campaign.”
Trump transitioned to the theme of illegal immigration, saying: “We are a nation that wants and needs borders, based on laws. I want people to come into the United States legally. I want to have a big, fat, open door, I want people with talent to come here, and I want them ultimately to become citizens.
“If I didn’t bring up the subject of illegal immigration, nobody would be talking about,” he said, repeating a statement he has made frequently on the campaign trail.
Dodging a question about whether or not America is today a great nation, Trump insisted America would reach new heights of greatness with him as president.
“Our country could be doing much better,” he insisted, deflecting a question that raised Marco Rubio’s criticism that Trump is belittling America.
“We have deficits that are enormous,” Trump continued. “We have all bad trade agreements. We have an army that is not prepared. We have nuclear weapons that don’t even work. Nothing works. We need victories in this country. Our country will be great again, but right now we have major problems.”
Trump said he was pleased Carly Fiorina will be allowed into the next CNN GOP presidential debate, but he said 11 candidates on the stage was too many, and he questioned why CNN had not excluded Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky.
Trump also attack Hillary Clinton, speculating that Vice President Joe Biden would only run for president if she decides to drop out.
“Hillary Clinton is the worst secretary of state in the history of the United States,” he said, “but in all fairness, with the treaty being finalized with Iran, John Kerry may well take her place as the worst. I think the treaty with Iran is a disaster for this country, for Israel, and for the Middle East. It is going to lead to nuclear proliferation, and we didn’t even get our prisoners back.”
Trump pledged that under his presidency, the United States would negotiate much better deals.
“Our country is being killed on trade by China, by Japan, by Mexico,” he stressed. “Their leaders are much smarter than our leaders. They are absolutely killing us, with China taking our jobs, taking our money, and we owe China $1.4 trillion. It’s like a magic act with Japan, we take their cars, they take our jobs, and we end up owing them money. That’s not going to happen with me.”
Trump concluded the press conference stressing he wants to create jobs.
“We have 93 million people that are not in the workforce,” he said. “When people quit looking for jobs, the government just takes them out of the statistics. We have 50 million people drifting between welfare and poverty. For our country to be great again, we have to put people back to work.”