Former President Trump on Wednesday mocked his primary rivals and sought to cement his status as the front-runner for the 2024 Republican nomination as he counterprogrammed the third GOP primary debate with one of his signature campaign rallies.
Trump held court with thousands of supporters in Hialeah, Fla., roughly 15 miles away from where five of his GOP primary rivals were debating around the same time on a stage in Miami. Trump spent relatively little time going after the other candidates seeking the Republican nomination, though, a nod to his front-runner status with two months until the Iowa caucuses kick off the primary calendar.
The former president has previously called for the Republican National Committee to stop hosting GOP debates over the next election cycle, given his double-digit front-runner status. It was a notion he seemed to reiterate Wednesday night.
“It’s time for the Republican establishment to stop wasting time and resources trying to push weak and ineffective RINOs and never-Trumpers that nobody wants and nobody is going to vote for,” Trump said, effectively calling for an end to future debates.
“Do you think we did the right thing by not participating?” he asked, drawing cheers from the crowd. “Somebody said … ‘He doesn’t have the courage to stand up.’ Well listen, I’m standing in front of tens of thousands of people right now, and it’s on television. That’s a hell of a lot harder to do than a debate.”
Trump touted his lead of roughly 60 percentage points in an average of primary polls, singling out Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) and former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R), his two closest competitors.
Trump boasted that he received more than 1 million more votes in 2020’s presidential election than DeSantis got in last year’s gubernatorial election, when turnout was also lower across the board.
And he mocked Haley, his former ambassador to the United Nations, referring to her as “Birdbrain” and invoking Haley’s 2021 comments that she would not run against Trump if he opted to seek another term.
Chris LaCivita, a senior Trump campaign adviser, called Wednesday night’s debate “a complete waste of time and money” and suggested DeSantis and Haley should consider dropping out or risk their political futures.
“They are going nowhere, and at this point every dollar sent to their campaigns or their SuperPACs may as well be going directly to Joe Biden,” LaCivita said. “Donald J. Trump is going to be the next President of the United States. It’s up to DeSantis and Haley to determine if they want a political future…or not.”
The former president had kind words for one GOP rival: entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, who has repeatedly praised Trump and called him the “best president” of the 21st century.
“How can I dislike him? He’s so nice,” Trump said without naming Ramaswamy. “He said I’m a younger version, and that’s OK to say. But we want the older version, right?”
Trump claimed the country had sharply declined under Biden, hammering the current administration for its border policies and its energy policies and calling Biden “incompetent.”
Trump claimed the country had sharply declined under Biden, hammering the current administration for its border policies and calling Biden “incompetent.”
“His problem is not age. His problem is that he’s grossly incompetent,” said Trump, who would be 78 at the start of a potential second term.
The former president hit Biden and Democrats for pulling the country to the left, comparing the direction of the U.S. to that of Cuba, a message that may resonate in heavily Hispanic Hialeah.
A New York Times/Siena College poll found Trump, the front-runner for the GOP nomination, leading Biden in five out of six critical battleground states that will likely determine the outcome of the 2024 race. The poll also found Biden losing support among young voters and Black voters compared with 2020.
A CBS News poll released Sunday also found Trump leading Biden in a hypothetical match-up, 51 percent to 48 percent.
And a CNN poll released Tuesday found Trump ahead of Biden 49 to 45 percent in a hypothetical rematch.
Still, Trump faces plenty of obstacles in the year before Election Day 2024.
He is facing federal charges in Washington, D.C., for his efforts to subvert the 2020 election results. He is facing federal charges in Florida for his retention and mishandling of classified documents after leaving office. He is facing state charges in New York over an alleged hush money scheme to keep quiet an affair. And he is facing state charges in Georgia over his efforts to overturn the 2020 election results there.
But the pileup of charges has only solidified Trump’s strength in the GOP primary, and the former president Wednesday sought to connect his legal woes to his supporters.
“I’m being indicted for you. Thanks a lot,” Trump quipped.
Biden campaign officials were not amused, however.
“Joe Biden smoked Donald Trump by 7 million votes in 2020 and the former president continues to lie about it rather than admit he lost — like an adult. It would be sad, if it weren’t so dangerous,” Ammar Moussa, a Biden campaign spokesperson, said in a statement.
“The dangerous and erratic ramblings of a loser who can’t admit defeat only underscore that Donald Trump is not fit to be president of the United States,” Moussa added.
Updated 10:13 a.m.