CHARLESTON, SOUTH CAROLINA – “Torture works,” Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump declared Wednesday, repeating his vow to bring back waterboarding and approve other, tougher interrogation techniques.
“Don’t tell me it doesn’t work. Torture works, OK folks?” the brash billionaire told a crowd in South Carolina, site of the next Republican primary on Saturday.
Trump has repeatedly advocated enhanced interrogation techniques for foreign prisoners, and he said again Wednesday he would “absolutely” allow waterboarding, which simulates the feeling of drowning.
“But we should go much stronger than waterboarding,” he said. “That’s the way I feel. They’re chopping off heads. Believe me, we should go much stronger because our country’s in trouble, we’re in danger. We have people that want to do really bad things.”
“Waterboarding is fine, but it’s not nearly tough enough,” he added.
Waterboarding was practiced until late in the George W. Bush administration but was disavowed by President Barack Obama. A 2014 Senate Intelligence Committee report concluded that harsh interrogation techniques failed to produce information the CIA couldn’t have obtained elsewhere or didn’t already have.
Trump’s comments could further alarm some Republican leaders, who fear Trump or Texas Sen. Ted Cruz will collect the delegates needed to secure the party’s nomination before a more mainstream candidate can consolidate voters’ support. So-called establishment Republicans worry that Trump or Cruz could jeopardize the party’s chances of winning in November’s general election.
“We do need to get the field down to Trump, Cruz and somebody,” said Henry Barbour, a Republican National Committee heavyweight from Mississippi.
Candidates Jeb Bush, John Kasich and Marco Rubio are jostling to be that more mainstream candidate, or at least keep their campaigns afloat if they don’t.
Rubio on Wednesday said going forward he’ll address audience members who use “outrageous, over-the-top and egregious” language during his events. That’s in response to an incident Tuesday night when an audience member shouted out “Waterboard Hillary!” Rubio laughed at the time.
Rubio on Wednesday claimed he didn’t hear exactly what the shouter said.
The Democratic field is already down to two candidates — Hillary Clinton, the former secretary of state, and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. Saturday’s Nevada caucuses are next for them, with a South Carolina primary on Feb. 27.
Both Clinton and Sanders are appealing to black voters, as blacks make up more than half of the Democratic primary electorate in South Carolina and several other southern states.
For the Republicans, the only thing that is clear heading into the South Carolina primary appears to be Trump’s grip on the lead following his victory in the New Hampshire primary. Cruz, the winner of the Iowa caucuses, is also in the mix for a strong finish.