WASHINGTON: Donald Trump, the defiant, mercurial celebrity leading the Republican presidential nomination race, is facing a backlash over his crude comments and fears he could mount an independent White House run.
The trash-talking billionaire has upended the Republican campaign, refusing to apologize for suggesting that a popular Fox News debate moderator asked him tough questions because she was menstruating.
“She should be apologizing to me,” Trump told MSNBC early Monday, after appearing on several Sunday talk shows to defend his suggestion that Megyn Kelly had “blood coming out of her wherever” as she questioned him during last week’s Republican debate.
Trump has shot to the top of the Republican field, invoking a rebellious, improvisational tone embraced by supporters, and striking fear into a party establishment keen to see a serious, viable candidate emerge to battle likely Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
Trump insisted Washington has been consumed by political correctness, and that he brings a dose of straight talk to the White House race. But is that enough to win over America?
“There is a difference between avoiding political correctness and being a moron,” Brian McClung, a Republican strategist who consulted for Tim Pawlenty’s 2012 presidential campaign, told AFP.
Republican candidates and leaders, McClung stressed, “have to stand up and speak out against Trump’s brand of stupidity.”
But in the first major poll released since the fractious debate featuring Trump and nine rivals, and an event with seven second-tier hopefuls, the campaign’s most controversial candidate remained on top.
Trump earned 19 percent support, compared with 12 percent for neurologist Ben Carson and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, and 11 percent for Jeb Bush, according to Public Policy Polling’s survey of Republican voters in Iowa released Monday.
Experts say The Donald is now entering a more difficult campaign period, one marked by increasing skepticism about his political intentions, deeper scrutiny of his past, and concern about Trump’s back-up plans.
“RedState Gathering,” a high-profile seminar of conservatives, disinvited Trump to its weekend conference, where Jeb Bush laid into the frontrunner.
“Do we want to insult 53 percent of all voters?” Bush asked at the Atlanta event.
“What Donald Trump said was wrong. That is not how we win elections.”
Trump signalled campaign changes are afoot, including the departure of long-time strategist Roger Stone, who reportedly urged Trump to lay out a political agenda rather than focus on sniping.
In an interview with The Washington Post, Trump said he “fired” Stone, while Stone said he quit because of the direction of the campaign.
“I’m going to come out with more positions,” Trump added, promising more policy heft.