Before an audience of Ohio loyalists, Donald Trump tried Monday to revert to his usual pitch, pledging that he would repeal Obamacare, dramatically lessen regulations governing business and rebuild the nation’s manufacturing base.
But the distractions that have cost his campaign four precious days surfaced nonetheless.
Trump did not mention his verbal battle with the parents of a Muslim U.S. Army captain who died in Iraq, nor was he asked about it by any of the three questioners at a town hall here that was dominated by his own remarks.
He did defend himself over a secondary weekend maelstrom, his Sunday remarks to ABC’s George Stephanopoulos that seemed to imply that he was unaware that Russian troops had already invaded Ukraine, in 2014.
Trump insisted, as he had in a statement released Sunday, that he meant to say that Russia would not invade Ukraine on his watch.
But then he suggested a softening of the U.S. approach to Russia, which the Obama administration has condemned for its actions.
“The person said, ‘But they’re already in Ukraine.’ I said, ‘Yeah, well, that was two years ago,’" Trump told his Ohio audience.
“I mean, do you want to go back? Do you want to have World War III to get it back? “ he asked.
“Wouldn’t it be great if we actually got along with Russia — am I wrong in saying that?” Trump asked.
He also asserted that dislike of President Obama had pushed Russia and China together in an alliance. Trump’s softer stance concerning Russia goes against generations of Republican orthodoxy — not that Trump has hewed to that much in his campaign.
Other than delving into Ukrainian matters, Trump kept to his usual condemnations of “Crooked Hillary” Clinton, his November adversary. And he asserted, without explaining why, that he was “afraid the election's going to be rigged. I've got to be honest."
He spent only some of his time on the most important element of his argument to Ohioans — the iffy state of the economy. He repeated details of a 4-day-old report that showed meager economic growth in the last quarter — a report that but for his self-induced controversies might have served as a means for Trump to cut into Clinton’s post-convention momentum last week.
“We’re sinking, we’re sinking,” he said, adding that “they call it the Rust Belt for a reason” — meaning that factories now unused had rusted out.
Clinton, he said, would be “all talk, no action.”
If Ohio, perhaps the most important state in the general election, votes for Clinton, “you’re going to be let down,” Trump said.
Trump’s visit to Columbus got off on a sour note when hundreds of supporters were denied entrance to his event at the local convention center.
Trump made himself available to reporters before his speech, where he fumed that “They’ve all been turned away. … That’s politics at its lowest.”
He blamed the fire marshal. Officials with the marshal and convention center offices told reporters that the room reserved by the Trump campaign had reached capacity. The Columbus Dispatch said hundreds were turned away, not the thousands claimed by Trump.
The audience was one of the smallest in memory for the Republican nominee.