ATLANTA (AP) – Donald Trump opened his mouth again and found the door closed to him Saturday at a high-profile gathering of conservative activists.
His latest incendiary comment, about one of the Fox News moderators from Thursday’s Republican presidential debate, led to a scolding by some of his rivals and the party, and condemnation by organizers of the RedState Gathering.
The billionaire businessman lashed out against Fox News’ Megyn Kelly for her questions during the campaign’s first debate. She had asked the candidate about his use of derogatory language toward women and whether it reflected the “temperament of a man we should elect as president.”
Referring to Kelly’s questions, Trump told CNN in an interview late Friday, “There was blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever.”
Soon after the interview aired, RedState’s Erick Erickson booted Trump from the event’s Saturday lineup.
“I just don’t want someone on stage who gets a hostile question from a lady and his first inclination is to imply it was hormonal. It just was wrong,” Erickson wrote on the RedState website.
He said that “while Mr. Trump resonates with a lot of people with his bluntness, including me to a degree, there are just real lines of decency a person running for president should not cross.”
Trump’s campaign was incensed – and unbowed.
“This is just another example of weakness through being politically correct. For all of the people who were looking forward to Mr. Trump coming, we will miss you. Blame Erick Erickson, your weak and pathetic leader,” according to a campaign statement.
In a follow-up statement Saturday morning, Trump’s camp intensified the personal attack against Erickson, slammed Kelly again and contended that the candidate’s precise words on CNN were “blood was coming out of her eyes and whatever.” That description deviated from the telephone interview that aired.
The campaign claimed that the 900 activists who had wanted to hear from Trump on Saturday evening were contacting the campaign to complain about Erickson and others who “are trying to be so politically correct. To them, Mr. Trump said, ‘We will catch you at another time soon.'”
Two of Trump’s rivals, former technology executive Carly Fiorina and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, said there was no excuse for Trump’s words about Kelly. They said they stood with the journalist.
An exasperated Mike Huckabee had enough of the seemingly endless Trump questions. “I’m running for president. I’m not running for social media critic of somebody else who’s running for president,” the former Arkansas governor said.
The Republican National Committee, treading carefully about the current front-runner for the 2016 nomination, called on Trump to “immediately clarify” his comment and said it would “highly inappropriate” if Trump stood by his remarks.
Trump needs “to understand that he is seeking the presidency of the United States now and that words do matter,” RNC spokesman Sean Spicer told NBC’s “Today” show on Saturday.
“I’m hoping that Mr. Trump, because he does speak off the cuff, because he doesn’t ascribe to political correctness, was speaking in a way that wasn’t fully thought out,” Spicer said.
Trump’s absence from Saturday’s program threatened to overshadow appearances by a number of his rivals, including Huckabee, Walker, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.
If there was anything close to a consensus among activists at the event, it was that they still wanted to hear what Trump had to say.
“Personally, we need to make up our own minds if someone is stupid,” said Jack Staver, a business consultant from Woodstock, Georgia. “If someone is going to fall on their face, let them do it for everyone to see. Maybe it will help us make up our minds in a primary like this.”
Connie Thomas, executive of a health care consultancy, said Trump went “too far” in the CNN interview. But, she added, “If he did something wrong, he should be allowed to come and answer for it in person.”
Not wanting to give him that chance was Dulcy Forte, 68, of Austin, Texas, already turned off by Trump’s suggestion that he might not support the eventual GOP nominee – if it’s not him.
“I always thought Donald Trump was a little crude, but, more importantly, he’s not a good Republican,” Forte said.
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