Donald Trump’s boisterous personality is fueling his campaign, but the billionaire businessman insists there is also a more dignified side to him.
In an interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper on Wednesday, Trump — who created one of the most memorable moments of the 2016 campaign so far by sharing rival Lindsey Graham’s cell phone number on national television — suggested that he would shift his rhetoric as president.
“As president, you would change your tone?” Cooper asked.
“Oh, I’d think so,” Trump said. “I’ll change my tone.”
Trump defended his recent attacks on his fellow candidates, saying he has been hitting back because he was first provoked.
“I didn’t start it with Lindsey Graham. I couldn’t care less about Lindsey Graham. He’s registered at I think zero in the polls,” Trump said. “Lindsey Graham called me a jackass. So am I supposed to say, ‘Oh, it’s OK’? I’m called a jackass. You have to fight back.”
The former host of “The Apprentice” was referring to comments Graham made in an interview with CNN’s Kate Bolduan earlier this week. The South Carolina Republican has harshly criticized Trump for making disparaging comments about Sen. John McCain’s service in the Vietnam War.
Trump remarked last weekend that McCain, a decorated veteran who spent more than five years in captivity and denied early release, was a “war hero because he was captured.”
“I like people that weren’t captured, OK?” Trump said, drawing swift and widespread criticism.
Being called a “jackass” seems to have clearly struck a nerve with Trump. At a campaign event in South Carolina Tuesday, he called Graham an “idiot,” then deployed an unorthodox method of political payback: he read out loud Graham’s cell phone number.
“Let’s try it,” Trump said, twice reciting a 202 area code phone number and goading the audience to “give it a shot.”
On Wednesday, Trump told Cooper that he had been “unfairly” targeted by Graham — whom Trump said just years ago had solicited him for money and advice.
“I was called names by somebody,” Trump said. “Somebody that’s hitting me saying what a bad guy I am, who was up in my office asking for money, and asking if I can get him on television.”
Trump, who has recently taken the lead among GOP candidates in national polls, also said he wasn’t worried about his high unfavorability ratings.
“I mean, I turned a lot of them around, and as you know in North Carolina, it was negative and now it’s like, tremendously positive,” he said. “When people hear what I said about the vets, and how strong my commitment is to the vets that have been they’ve been treated so badly and to the border, which is just horrible, I mean every time people listen to me, all of a sudden it becomes very favorable.”
‘Repenting is terrific’
At the same event where Trump ignited a political firestorm by questioning McCain’s service in Vietnam, he said something else that raised eyebrows.
Discussing his faith, Trump said he had never asked forgiveness from God.
“When I drink my little wine – which is about the only wine I drink – and have my little cracker, I guess that is a form of asking for forgiveness,” he said.
In Wednesday’s interview, Trump said it wasn’t so much that he’s opposed to the idea of repentance – “I think repenting is terrific,” he quipped – but that he doesn’t make a lot of mistakes that require asking for forgiveness.
“I try and lead a life where I don’t have to ask God for forgiveness,” he said. “Why do I have to ask for forgiveness if you’re not making mistakes? I work hard, I’m an honorable person.”
On describing taking communion as eating a “little cracker,” he said the comments were all good-natured and that the audience took no offense.
“We were having fun when I said, I drink the wine, I eat the cracker – but we’re talking about communion and you know what, the whole room was laughing,” he said.
Political reporters are ‘really dishonest’
If Trump could have it his way, the 2016 campaign would be covered by the financial press rather than political reporters.
The real estate mogul bristled when Cooper mentioned a newly released Quinnipiac University poll that showed Trump with a high unfavorability rating in the early states.
“You only want to talk about negative. Why don’t you bring up the positive polls, Anderson?” Trump said. “I’m leading across the board. And then you hit me with this poll that I didn’t even see before.
He said he’s largely received fair coverage from the financial press because his business ventures have been so successful. “Numbers are numbers, and my numbers happen to be great,” he said.
Poliitcal reporters, however, are a different breed, he said. “I find that 60, 70% of the political media is really, really dishonest.”
Sandra Bland controversy
Trump weighed in on the controversial arrest of an African-American woman in Texas that has garnered national backlash.
A dashcam video shows a Texas state trooper pulling over a woman named Sandra Bland earlier this month for allegedly failing to use her turn signal. The exchange between the officer and Bland quickly gets heated when Bland declines to put out her cigarette, and is asked to get out of her vehicle.
The officer then pulls out what appears to be a Taser, screaming, “Get out of the car! I will light you up!”
Trump said he believed the officer seemed “overly aggressive.”
“He just looked very aggressive. I didn’t like his demeanor, I thought it was terrible, to be honest with you,” he said. “I am a huge fan of the police. I think the police have to be given back power. But this guy was overly aggressive, terribly aggressive.”
Trump went on to add that he has a “great relationship” with African-Americans: “I just have great respect for them and they like me, I like them.”