NEWARK, N.J. (CBS DC/AP) — Donald Trump, provocateur of the Republican presidential race, now plans to go the Mexican border, a flashpoint in the primary contest ever since he declared that immigrants from Mexico are rapists and drug dealers.
He will travel to Laredo, Texas, on Thursday, where he will hold a press conference at the border, meet members of the union that represents border control agents and speak to law enforcement officers, his campaign said.
“I’ve been invited by border patrols and they want to honor me, actually, and thousands and thousands of ’em because I’m speaking up,” Trump said in an interview with Fox News, as reported by CBS News. “It could even be tomorrow.”
Trump said that border patrol officers are “tough” people but they called him because “they are not allowed to do their job.”
The plan signaled no backing down — indeed, a possible further escalation — in a feud with presidential rivals and other figures in the party. That feud was sparked by his comments about immigrants last month but accelerated when he mocked Arizona Sen. John McCain’s experience as a tortured prisoner in the Vietnam war, then slammed his Senate record on veterans issues.
The billionaire’s taste for payback against those who criticize him was demonstrated Tuesday when he gave out Sen. Lindsey Graham’s cell phone number to a crowd and TV audience, resulting in jammed voice mail for the senator. This was after Graham, one of the GOP candidates, called Trump “the world’s biggest jackass.”
At the Capitol on Wednesday, Graham was chatting on his flip phone as he rode the elevator. Asked if he would be getting a new one, he laughed and said yes. He said later he’d be changing his number.
At one point, Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island came up behind him, clapped a hand on his back and said, “I’ve been trying to call you, but I haven’t been able to get through!”
In a speech Tuesday to hundreds of supporters in Bluffton, South Carolina, Trump kept on McCain, accusing him of being soft on illegal immigration.
“He’s totally about open borders and all this stuff,” Trump said.
The real estate developer also went after others who have criticized him in recent weeks, implying that former Texas Gov. Rick Perry was unintelligent and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush weak.
McCain sparked Trump’s temper last week when the senator said the businessman’s inflammatory remarks about Mexican immigrants had brought out the “crazies.” McCain said Tuesday he would no longer respond to Trump’s comments.
Graham, a McCain friend and one of the 16 notable Republicans running for the presidential nomination, betrayed the growing exasperation and anger of many in the party when he appeared earlier on “CBS This Morning.”
“Don’t be a jackass,” Graham said. “Run for president. But don’t be the world’s biggest jackass.”
He said Trump had “crossed the line with the American people” and predicted this would be “the beginning of the end with Donald Trump.”
Trump responded during his speech by calling Graham an “idiot” and a “total lightweight,” then held up a piece of paper and read out the senator’s cellphone number to the capacity crowd of 540 people and the TV audience. He said Graham had given him the number several years ago when he’d asked him to put in a good word with a morning news show.
“Give it a shot,” Trump encouraged. “He won’t fix anything, but at least he’ll talk to you.”
Trump also ordered the American flags on his U.S. properties to be lowered, an act he said was to honor the five service members killed in last week’s shooting in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
The symbolism served, too, to underscore his claim that he has been a stronger supporter of veterans than McCain, despite the senator’s central work in passing laws that overhauled the Department of Veterans Affairs and strengthened programs against suicide by service members.
Elsewhere in South Carolina on Tuesday, one of Trump’s rivals, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, walked a fine line, criticizing his fellow candidate’s rhetoric on immigration and McCain but saying Trump’s supporters are “good people” with “legitimate concerns.”
“I respect the sentiments people feel when they hear Trump talk,” Bush told Republican women in Spartanburg. “The problem with Mr. Trump’s language is that it’s divisive, it’s ugly, it’s mean-spirited,” He said: “We have to separate him from the people that have legitimate concerns about the country.”
Another GOP rival, Rand Paul, was more dismissive. “People have to decide what’s more important in trying to fix the country — real solutions or bombast,” said the Kentucky senator. He predicted the GOP campaign will “get beyond the novelty of a reality TV star.”
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