MACON, Georgia — Donald Trump says he isn’t joking anymore.
The front-running GOP presidential candidate, who often has crowds laughing during his rallies, threatened to change his jokey style because it results in him being misrepresented — both in the press and in attack ads from his opponents.
“They take two second snippets,” he exclaimed before settling back into his usual style, comedy included.
But that’s not the only threat Trump levied. In a chilly arena that was transformed from an ice rink into an event space by laying down plastic tiles to cover the rink floor, the businessman put a price on his participation at the coming CNN Republican debate: $5 million.
“How about I tell CNN, who doesn’t treat me properly … I’m not gonna do the next debate, okay?” The demand garnered tepid applause from the crowd.
Trump zeroed in more on his idea: “I won’t do the debate unless they pay me $5 million, all of which goes to Wounded Warriors or goes to vets.”
That was something the crowd could get behind, and an idea Trump has floated once before.
“The problem is they’ll say ‘Trump is chicken,'” he said. “One thing I’m not is chicken, okay?”
In keeping with his say-anything style, Trump then managed to hit eight of his GOP opponents in the span of about five minutes. Gov. John Kasich, Gov. Bobby Jindal, former Gov. Rick Perry, Sen. Lindsey Graham, former Gov. Jeb Bush, Sen. Marco Rubio, Gov. Chris Christie, all earned a jab from Trump — who even included Sen. Ted Cruz in his diatribe, though with more of a warning than an attack.
“There’s only one way to get to the top and it’s all through Trump, let’s face it.”
And when the moment comes that Cruz does attack him, the GOP frontrunner said it would be a “sad day but we will hit back, I promise.”
A frequent target at these rallies: Hillary Clinton, who Trump said “should’ve been indicted” over her email scandal. He also added in a throwback to the tumultuous years of the Clinton White House, mentioning the Whitewater controversy and reminding the crowd that “we can’t get involved in that anymore.”
He also attacked Barack Obama, saying that history would remember him as a “horrible president” who “didn’t know what the hell he was doing.”
The barbs were typical Trump, but for some his usual candor wasn’t as compelling as it has been in the past. About half an hour into Trump’s nearly hour-long remarks members of the crowd, which law enforcement officials estimated to be just shy of 6,000, began to file towards the back of the arena. Some told NBC News they were moving to the upper rafters, presumably for a quicker exit once the rally ended. Another young man draped in an American flag was prioritizing his own needs, saying “I just have to pee.” One woman though, before being pulled away by her boyfriend, expressed dismay over the speech’s content.
She told NBC News that Trump was “just talking more about Obama” instead of discussing how he himself would unify the country. Her boyfriend tugged her arm and, unprompted, clarified her words, saying that they were leaving early to go pick something up at her place of work.
Still, the ones that stayed with him to the end were confident as ever in their support of the man who has led the Republican field in polls for months. “We need more of him!” a man said as he exited. Another woman said “Mr Trump really has his finger on the pulse of America right now.” Ryan Farmer, 23, said that in his eyes Trump was the somebody America needs to “step up and truly lead. He’s the true definition a leader in every sense.”
There to bolster his leadership credentials, an outsider of an election past: Herman Cain. The Georgia native told the crowd he was there simply because “Donald Trump asked me to.” Cain even included his catch phrase — “aw shucky ducky!” — before turning over the floor to The Donald, coming short of endorsing him, though this is the second time the two have appeared together in The Peach State.