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Donald Trump: Bully blowhard or truth teller?


Corporations are distancing themselves from Donald Trump’s blunt remarks on immigration faster than an airliner zooming over his Palm Beach estate, costing the billionaire tens of millions even as he rises to the top of some GOP presidential polls for the first time.

A list of the companies cutting ties grows almost daily, from Univision to EPSN and Macy’s and PGA of America. But Trump’s refusal to tone it down — on any given day, he’s toning it up, suing Univision for $500 million — has a familiar ring to many in his part-time stomping grounds.

In January, Trump sued Palm Beach County for $100 million and accused Palm Beach International Airport of deliberately routing air traffic over his historic Palm Beach mansion and private club, Mar-a-Lago. A memo from a county official noted it was the fourth such lawsuit since 1995 and none of the previous ones had been successful.

Now reaction ranges from appreciation he has put illegal immigration back at the forefront of the national debate to deep dismay over what many take personally as an ugly, broad-brush attack on whole group of people.

“I was insulted,” said Julian Zaldivar, a board member of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Palm Beach County who was born in Mexico City. “I was surprised a man of such prestige was saying this.”

In a county whose growing Hispanic community represents more than one in five residents, he hears “sadness, disappointment, even fear — fear that more people might think Mexicans are rapists and the lowest and worst part of society.”

But former Palm Beach County Republican chairman Sid Dinerstein, for one, rejects the kind of narrative that dismisses Trump as a self-serving celebrity attention hound who is harming the GOP brand by alienating Hispanics.

There’s a real issue beneath the fuss and Trump has brought it front and center, he said. A woman’s murder in California allegedly by an illegal immigrant who evaded deportation in a “sanctuary” city received national attention because of Trump, he said. Immigrants who come to this country legally don’t want crime either, he said.

“Donald comes out and says what the other Republicans should be saying,” Dinerstein said. “He doesn’t say it as politically correctly as others might.”

However he is saying them, Trump’s comments coincide with his first lead in polls over former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. Take that for what it’s worth in an early stage of the campaign where name recognition looms large. But it has forced rivals to react. Bush, whose wife was born in Mexico, has called Trump’s comments “extraordinarily ugly” and “not reflective of the Republican Party.”

One local Hispanic leader finds Trump’s talk “despicable.” He said he is surprised people are not lining up along Summit Boulevard to picket outside Trump’s golf course there.

“Maybe they don’t want to create any more publicity for him,” said Jorge Avellana, executive director of the Hispanic Human Resources Council in West Palm Beach. “I’m not speaking as executive director. I’m speaking as an individual who is offended. He is dividing the nation in the ugliest possible way, on race and nationality.”

The fallout from all this extends to the heavens. The Federal Aviation Administration yanked Trump-related names from coordinates honoring him in the skies above Palm Beach County, saying Thursday it generally chooses names that are “non-controversial.”

If there’s a silver lining, from Avellana’s point of view, it’s the reaction of the corporations — an implicit recognition of the growing purchasing power of the Hispanic community.

But soothing reconciliation is generally not the first arrow out of the Trump quiver, and feuds can drag on for decades. Take his January lawsuit that calls out airport director Bruce Pelly by name.

“Pelly is seeking revenge by attacking Mar-a-Lago from the air,” the suit says.

A memo from Pelly to county commissioners said this was the fourth lawsuit like this since 1995. “It should be noted that not one of the prior lawsuits was successful,” the memo said.

“I think the county has benefitted from his presence here, with Mar-a-Lago and the Trump golf course,” county administrator Bob Weisman said Friday. At the same time, he said, “we pride ourselves here on equal treatment for everyone. Any comments that are made that would denigrate some people are not in accordance with county policy.”

Rhetorically, Trump has not retreated on immigration, though he admitted at one point he did not know the corporate blowback “was going to be this severe.” He expressed some surprise, for example, that NASCAR is moving an annual banquet from the Trump National Doral resort in Miami.

PGA of America in Palm Beach Gardens said it and Trump “mutually agreed” not to hold the Grand Slam of Golf at Trump National Golf Club in Los Angeles on Oct. 19-21. A spokeswoman in Palm Beach Gardens said the organization had no further comment about why. In a statement Trump said he had “great respect for PGA of America and everything they stand for.”

By some estimates, all this has cost him $50 million to $80 million.

By the middle of last week, though, Trump was downplaying the break-up with NASCAR as well as ESPN, which announced it was moving its ESPY Celebrity Golf Classic from Trump’s course in Los Angeles to nearby Pelican Hill. If anything, Trump said, he comes out ahead because he can keep their deposits and look for others to take their place.

“Headlines blared all over the world, ‘ESPN and NASCAR Dropping Trump,’ ” his statement said. “Give me a break! All of this because of my strong stance on illegal immigration during my run for President. Make America Great Again!”

Whatever else Trump has done, he has returned immigration to prominence in the national conversation, said Palm Beach Couty tea party leader Everett Wilkinson. Wilkinson got Trump to come to a Boca Raton rally the last time he flirted with a presidential run.

Beneath the cloud of controversy over the messenger — Trump — are serious problems including human trafficking, drugs and crimes committed by people entering the county illegally, Wilkinson said.

“It could have been worded a little bit better,” Wilkinson said. “But he’s got a great issue in immigration and none of the other candidates are addressing it.”

Fort Lauderdale-based Republican blogger and author Javier Manjarres saw problems with delivery but not the core position: “What he said is accurate but it came out wrong. I’m not defending him. What he said was very crude. As a Hispanic, I didn’t get offended because I knew exactly what he was saying.”

Trump said in a June 16 presidential announcement speech, “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending the best. They’re not sending you, they’re sending people that have lots of problems and they’re bringing those problems. They’re bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime. They’re rapists and some, I assume, are good people, but I speak to border guards and they’re telling us what we’re getting.”

Trump called for a much tougher policy on border security, and in subsequent interviews has attacked Bush’s stance on immigration as weak: “He said it’s an act of love. I mean what kind of stuff is that? It’s baby stuff.”

“The folks responding positively to Trump’s message are people who believe (illegal immigration) can be an existential threat to the United States of America,” Manjarres said. “There are many who believe it’s an issue of national security.”

In West Palm Beach, Trump’s talk has been deeply troubling for Zalvidar, 29, who works in radio. Many people from Mexico help build the properties that serve as the jewels of an empire like Trump’s, he said, and they come to America for a chance at their own share of prosperity.

“I felt sad,” Zalvidar said. “”I felt fear that the perspective of a lot of Americans might be affected by what he said.”



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