WASHINGTON – Donald Trump previewed a coming political battle with fellow Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz, the tea party senator from Texas who many are predicting is jockeying for Trump’s base of support.
“Even Cruz, I think he’s going to have to hit me,” Trump told a near-capacity crowd of more than 9,000 in Macon, Georgia, during a more than 80-minute speech. “It’s going to be a sad day, but we will hit back — I promise.”
Republicans in Washington have speculated for months that Cruz, who has largely steered clear of criticizing the GOP front-runner, has been angling for the celebrity billionaire’s base of support.
Earlier Monday, Cruz said at a campaign even in Iowa that Trump “was not going to be nominee.”
“Let me be very clear: I don’t believe Donald Trump is gonna be the nominee, I don’t believe he’s gonna be our president,” Cruz said. “And I actually think the men and women in this room have something powerful to say about it. One of the reasons I love the state of Iowa, because in Iowa, y’all take politics seriously.”
While Cruz is looking to pull off a Feb. 1 win Iowa, the first caucus state, Trump’s appearance in Georgia foreshadows the outsider’s longer-term strategy. Georgia voters will vote a month later, in the state’s March 1 primary, one of several contests on what is known as Super Tuesday.
Earlier in the day, Trump held a Manhattan meeting in Trump Tower with about 100 black evangelical pastors. Trump is continuing to court black Republicans, and former 2012 GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain kicked off his event in Macon. Cain didn’t endorse Trump and spoke for about five minutes because, as Cain put it, Trump “asked me to.”
“Well, many of you know that I was considered an outsider,” Cain said. “And let me tell you something about my definition of an outsider: If you are born in the United States of America you are an insider through and through. There are no outsiders.”
Trump lambasted CNN’s coverage of his meeting with black pastors. And he even weighed skipping the network’s Dec. 15 Republican presidential debate unless CNN officials donated $5 million to help veterans.
“I won’t do the debate unless they pay me $5 million, all of which money goes to wounded warriors or to the vets … what do you think?” Trump asked the crowd, which responded with mixed boos and cheers.
“With CNN, here’s what they’ll say, ‘Trump’s chicken. He’s afraid to debate,'” Trump said. “One thing I’m not is chicken.”
Trump was well received in Macon, a Republican stronghold in central Georgia, but about one-third of the crowd started trickling out after Trump spoke for about an hour in order to get a head start in navigating an overcrowded parking lot.
As for his continued perch at the top of the Republican presidential field, Trump seemed resigned to the coming fights with candidates like Cruz, as well as bit gleeful at the discomfort he was causing the party’s insiders.
“We’re driving the Republican establishment crazy. Crazy,” Trump boasted. “They don’t know what to do.”