Appearing in crucial Florida for the first time since clinching the Republican presidential nomination, Donald Trump attacked Democrat Hillary Clinton on Saturday but also indulged in plenty of score-settling with Jeb Bush, Mitt Romney and other GOP critics.
Part-time Palm Beach resident Trump drew thousands to a rally at the Tampa Convention Center, where Gov. Rick Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi were among those introducing him.
Trump wrapped up the Republican nomination a month ago, but has struggled to unify his own party. Most recently, House Speaker Paul Ryan and other Republicans harshly criticized Trump for accusing an Indiana-born federal judge of being unfair to him because “he’s a Mexican.”
Trump didn’t directly refer to the firestorm over U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel, but told the Tampa crowd, “I love the Mexican people. I have so many Mexicans working for me.”
He also declared: “I am the least racist person that you’ve ever met, believe me.”
Trump urged Republicans — whom he often referred to as “they” — to unite behind his candidacy.
“We have a war to win against a very crooked politician named Hillary Clinton, OK? I don’t want to waste a lot of time trying to defend ourselves against these phony people. … The Republican Party really should get their act together, they have to come together. We’ve got to win. And if for no other reason, the Supreme Court, remember that,” Trump said.
Later, he added: “We have to get tough. We have to stop being so politically correct. The Republican Party, the Republican Party and our leaders, we’ve got to get down to business. I mean, I’ve had more opposition from the Republican Party than I do from the Democrats. It’s crazy. With that being said, I think it’s coming together.”
Trump said Republicans who don’t get behind him will pay a price at the polls.
“The Republican Party has to be tough, has to be smart. And if they’re not tough and smart, I’m going to win but a lot of other people aren’t,” Trump said.
Trump, who repeatedly mocked former GOP establishment favorite Bush as “low energy” until Bush dropped out of the race in February, mentioned Bush three separate times in his remarks Saturday.
Bush has said he will not support Trump in the general election.
“I don’t think he’s going to endorse me. Do you, folks? Who the hell cares,” Trump said.
Romney, who touted Trump’s endorsement in 2012, has also said he won’t support Trump this year.
Trump said Romey was “sitting like a real stiff” in a recent interview and said “the guy’s a stone-cold loser. He’s a choker.”
When he wasn’t talking about other Republicans, Trump blasted Clinton and her use of a private email server to conduct business while she was secretary of state.
“What’s happening with Hillary Clinton is a disgrace. She’s broken the laws of our land. She’s making us totally vulnerable from a national security standpoint. She was secretary of state. What she did with her server is illegal. It’s wrong,” Trump said.
Clinton is being investigated by the FBI, but Trump said “it looks to me like nothing’s going to happen to her. Because it’s a rigged system folks. It’s a rigged system.”
Trump vowed to campaign heavily in Florida, a state Barack Obama carried in 2008 and 2012 and that Trump called “absolutely imperative” for the GOP this year.
“I’ll be in Florida. I’ll be with you so much over the next five months that you’re going to say, ‘Please, keep him the hell out of Florida. He’s driving us crazy. He’s driving us crazy,’” Trump said.
Before Trump appeared, the parade of speakers introducing him included three ministers who vouched for Trump’s social conservative credentials. Bondi, Republican National Committeewoman Sharon Day and Dena DeCamp, president of the Florida Federation of Republican Women, attempted to shore up Trump’s standing with women voters, who favor Clinton by a large margin in most polls.
“Hillary Clinton is consumed with making history by becoming our first female president,” Bondi said. “Donald’s consumed with something else: keeping our American dream from becoming history.”
Bondi has been under fire for accepting a $25,000 political contribution from a Trump foundation in 2013 — around the same time her office was deciding not to pursue an investigation of fraud allegations against Trump University.
Marc Reichelderfer, a political consultant who worked for Bondi’s 2014 re-election, told the Associated Press recently that Bondi spoke with Trump “several weeks” before the contribution was received by a pro-Bondi committee called And Justice For All. Reichelderfer said that Bondi was unaware of complaints received about Trump’s real estate seminars at the time she requested the donation.