The Buzz

Trump threatens third-party run, bashes Haley

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a Holiday Inn in Mount Pleasant on Monday.
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a Holiday Inn in Mount Pleasant on Monday. ashain@thestate.com

Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump did not close the door Monday on a possible third-party run, accusing the Republican National Committee of breaking its pledge to stay neutral in the race.

“The RNC is in default,” Trump said during a news conference here. “When somebody is in default, that means the other side can do what they have to do.”

The New York billionaire also criticized Republican Gov. Nikki Haley, saying she had failed to protect South Carolina from Syrian refugees who could pose a danger to the state and the possibility of Guantanamo prisoners being transferred to the Navy brig outside Charleston.

“A governor has a lot of power people don’t realize,” Trump said, three miles from the brig. “A governor has a choice.”

Haley has sent letters to federal officials voicing her objection to allowing refugees in the state without vetting and protesting any plans to move the Guantanamo prisoners to South Carolina. No decision has been made about moving those prisoners.

“Donald Trump would be wise to know the facts before he discusses serious issues affecting South Carolinians — on both topics, the governor has taken on President Obama directly,” Haley deputy chief of staff Rob Godfrey said.

Haley, one of the state’s most popular Republicans, has criticized Trump on several occasions for his combative campaign tactics, including in her State of the Union response last month, when she asked voters to avoid the “angriest voices.”

In his fight against the RNC, Trump said he is upset that tickets to GOP presidential debates, including one held Saturday in Greenville, have gone to what he calls special interests and big donors. Trump was booed several times during the debate for criticizing other Republican candidates, especially former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

“We have warned them twice and they don’t listen,” Trump said of the RNC. “The bottom line is that the RNC is controlled by the establishment and the RNC is controlled by the special interests and the donors. And that’s too bad. That’s why the Republicans for president has lost so much for so long.”

Of 1,600 seats for Saturday’s debate, the RNC said each candidate was given 100 tickets; the S.C. GOP and local-elected officials were given 550; the RNC received 367; and debate partners — CBS News, Peace Center, and Google — received 100.

The RNC did not respond Monday to the possibility of Trump mounting a third-party run if he does not win the GOP nomination.

Trump signed a RNC loyalty pledge last year to support the party’s nominee. He initially balked at the pledge, fearing Republicans might try to undermine his insurgent campaign.

The reality TV star has surprised pundits by remaining the GOP front-runner for so long. However, his campaign has resonated with voters who want a non-politician to shake up Washington.

In a speech to several hundred people at a Mount Pleasant hotel earlier Monday, Trump pounced on his GOP opponents who attacked him at Saturday’s debate.

“I have never met people like politicians. They are the most dishonest people I have ever met,” he said. “They lie, lie, lie and then they apologize.”

Trump blasted U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, his closet rival in South Carolina, in particular, saying the Texas Republican had distorted his stance on the Second Amendment during the debate.

“I think he’s an unstable person,” Trump said of Cruz.

Trump called Cruz a “bad liar,” saying his campaign stole the Iowa caucus by spreading rumors that GOP candidate Ben Carson was quitting the race.

Cruz won the Iowa caucus. However, Trump said the Iowa Republican Party should disqualify Cruz’s win “if they had any guts.”

Cruz’s contradictions — touting his religious background while misstating other candidates’ records — are the reason that he is not leading among evangelical Christian voters, said Trump, who has been the favorite among S.C. evangelicals.

“The worst thing is you’re willing to lie about anything and then hold up a Bible,” Trump said.

Later Monday, Trump threatened to sue Cruz, questioning his ability to hold the office of president since he was born in Canada to an American mother. Most experts say Cruz meets the qualifications to run.

Trump’s appearance came hours before former President George W. Bush’s 2016 campaign debut for his brother, Jeb Bush, in North Charleston.

Trump criticized the former president during Saturday’s debate for launching the Iraq war.

On Monday, however, Trump wondered why Jeb Bush had not enlisted his brother’s assistance sooner.

“I think he would have done better,” Trump said.

“It’s better than exclamation points,” a reference to Jeb Bush’s campaign logo.

Andrew Shain: 803-771-8619, @AndyShain

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