Campaigning Friday, Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump did not bring up – and was not asked about – being under fire for saying he would support registering Muslims in the United States.
But Trump did receive high praise from former S.C. Gov. David Beasley, who introduced the New York billionaire to a packed audience at Wofford College as “the next president of the United States” and “the man who will make America great again.”
Beasley later told reporters Trump’s disregard for political correctness “is shaking up the establishment and has been good for the party.”
During an hour-long forum, Trump answered questions from Wofford graduate and former S.C. GOP chairman Van Hipp on foreign policy, immigration and the economy. The forum consisted mostly of Trump restating his often colorful campaign talking points – promising “victories” for the United States and “hell to pay” for terrorists.
Asked how he would help college students compete in a global economy, Trump said, “I will be the greatest job-producing president that God ever created.”
On immigration, Trump talked about the wall he promises to build between the United States and Mexico, which, he says, Mexico will pay for. “That wall will have a big beautiful open door, and people are going to come into our country. But they’re going to come in legally.”
Trump was not asked about comments he made to an NBC reporter in support of creating a database for registering Muslims in the country.
Democratic presidential candidates and some of Trump’s GOP rivals quickly criticized those comments.
Democratic U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders called the statement “outrageous and bigoted.”
Republican Jeb Bush said on CBNC, “You talk about closing mosques. You talk about registering people – that’s just wrong.”
Trump did not take questions from reporters at Wofford. And, after the forum, Trump’s campaign staff attempted to keep media corralled near the back of the gym while the candidate shook hands with audience members and signed autographs.
Later Friday, Trump tweeted that a reporter had suggested the database for registering Muslims. “I didn’t suggest a database – a reporter did. We must defeat Islamic terrorism & have surveillance, including a watch list, to protect America,” he wrote.
Before the event, Wofford senior Al Kelly said he understands why Trump has dominated in the polls, despite saying things that some people find offensive.
“He has a positive message for America” and speaks to voters who think “America is losing its exceptionalism,” said the finance and economics major.
“Especially my generation,” Kelly continued. “We don’t have a robust economy, especially after the Great Recession. It feels like a lot of people have sort of gotten the short end of the stick.”
Still, Kelly said he prefers U.S. Sens. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and Ted Cruz, R-Texas, over Trump.
After the forum, Beasley said he has not endorsed a candidate and has not decided who will get his vote in South Carolina’s Feb. 20 GOP presidential primary. But, Beasley added, Trump’s “heart, his dreams, his vision would make America great again.”
“I don’t necessarily agree with all of his views,” Beasley continued. “I just like the fact that he’s speaking the heart of the American people right now, not worrying about being politically correct.”
SC GOP primary
Donald Trump is leading in South Carolina’s Feb. 20 Republican presidential primary, according to an average of polls. A look at the Top 5:
Trump: 25 percent
Ben Carson: 22.7 percent
U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio: 11 percent
U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz: 10.7 percent
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush: 7.3 percent
SOURCE: Real Clear Politics