LOS ANGELES – When Donald Trump took the stage on Debate Eve, it was brief address that did not directly take on any of his Republican presidential rivals.
But the words were less important than the image the media horde was meant to capture: The candidate speaking below three 16-inch guns on the deck of a World War II-era battleship, the U.S.S. Iowa.
There was plenty of the usual Trump bravado for about 800 supporters who paid a minimum of $100 for tickets supporting the conservative nonprofit Veterans for a Strong America, which offered Trump its endorsement.
The closest he came to challenging his fellow Republicans was a group shot at their dealmaking acumen.
“Look, I’m fighting some very nice people, very nice, even though I’m leading in the polls. They’re very nice people. They’re never going to do anything with these countries. They’re never going to be able to do it. It’s an instinct. It’s something that’s special. They don’t have it. Believe me, they don’t have it. It’s just going to be more of the same.”
It appears Trump’s Republican foes are spoiling for a fight ahead of Wednesday’s CNN debate. Carly Fiorina is hitting back on Trump’s comments about “that face.” Jeb Bush’s “Right to Rise” Super PAC is taking him on, as is the fiscally conservative Wall Street-backed Club For Growth, which announced a $1 million Iowa television ad campaign against the billionaire on Tuesday.
But Trump defied expectations by not launching a counteroffensive from the battleship. It was an abbreviated 13-minute performance that did not have the promised hefty foreign policy roll-out. Trump told the crowd: “we’re going to come out with some plans in a very short time.”
Until then, Trump is simply vowing to build up America’s military “so big and so strong and so great. And it will be so powerful that I don’t think we’re ever going to have to use it. Nobody’s going to mess with us.”
He once again denounced the Iran nuclear deal as “one of the weakest contracts of any kind,” proclaiming that John Kerry might have surpassed Hillary Clinton as, in Trump’s mind, “the worst secretary of state in the history of this country.”
Trump drew on Richard Nixon’s famous description of the electorate.
“The silent majority, believe me, is back. And I think we can use it somewhat differently. I don’t think we have to call it a silent majority anymore because they’re not silent. People are not silent. They are disgusted with our incompetent politicians. They are disgusted with people who are giving our country away. … They’re disgusted when a woman who’s nine months pregnant walks across the border, has a baby and you need to take care of that baby for the next 85 years.”
Such descriptions of illegal immigrants have inspired protesters, and more than 100 amassed at a gate next to the battleship to boo Trump as he made his remarks. He ignored them from the stage, but after shaking hands and signing “Make America Great Again” hats, Trump disembarked. He waved several times and gave the thumbs-up to protesters who booed and chanted “Go Home Trump.”
He hopped into the front seat of a black SUV and sped off, but not back to Trump Tower. Home will have to wait until after Wednesday’s debate.