Facing questions from Texas Sen. Ted Cruz about his commitment to conservatism, GOP front-runner Donald Trump on Monday acknowledged he had altered his thinking, but declared that he is the most effective enemy of his former allies.
“I was on the other side. I changed sides,” Trump said during a rousing appearance at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia. “I was total Establishment. Now, I’m like the worst thing that ever happened to the Establishment. Because I understand the game.”
For the past week, Cruz has been referring to what he calls Trump’s liberal “New York values,” a phrase Trump himself once used. The real estate mogul today insists he is firmly in the conservative camp.
Trump’s appearance at Liberty, the iconic Christian university, was part of an attempt to close the deal with the evangelical voters he needs to win in Iowa, where he is locked in a neck-and-neck race with Cruz. Conservative Christian voters typically dominate the state’s caucuses, and Cruz has made them the lynchpin of his campaign there.
On the Martin Luther King Jr., holiday, Trump hailed his relationship with Christian voters.
“We’re going to protect Christianity,” he said. “I can say that. I don’t have to be politically correct.”
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Trump quoted a little Scripture — 2 Corinthians 3:17, “Now the Lord is that Spirit and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty” — and described the religion as “under siege” throughout the world.
“Bad things are happening,” said Trump. “Very bad things are happening. I don’t know what it is. We don’t band together, maybe. Other religions, frankly, they’re banding together.”
Trump also vowed to foster more public celebrations of Christmas.
“If I’m elected president, you’re going to see ‘Merry Christmas’ in department stores, believe me,” he said.
For the most part, though, the address at Liberty was standard Trump, and he made surprisingly few overt appeals to religion. Rather, he relied heavily on staples of his stump speech, including many classics he has been employing since he first took the race by storm over the summer.
He took tweaks at his fellow candidates and the political class in general. He called former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush a “stiff” and “low energy.” He blasted various international accords struck by the Obama administration and budget deals made by Republican congressional leaders, and criticized the country’s “very stupid leadership.”
Trump pointed out American job losses that he blames on free-trade deals. He repeated his resolution not to eat Oreo cookies because Nabisco’s parent company is moving some production from Chicago to Mexico. He also blasted Ford Motor Co., as he regularly does, for its announcement last year that it will create a $2.5 billion facility in Mexico to build engines and transmissions.
To reverse job losses to Mexico and other countries, Trump said he would impose a 35 percent tax on foreign-made products entering the United States. This is less than the 45 percent tariff he floated during a New York Times editorial board meeting earlier this month.
Trump suggested he would assess large tariffs only reluctantly.
“I don’t want to do that, because I’m a free trader,” he said. “Free trade is good, but we have to be smart about it.”
To his standard critique of the Iran nuclear deal, Trump added recent news events, including a weekend deal in which the Islamic republic released four American prisoners in exchange for seven people convicted or awaiting trial in the United States. He linked the deal to reports that three American contractors now have been kidnapped in Iraq.
“This is going to take place all over,” he said.