SANDOWN, N.H. —Donald Trump lashed out against a broad array of people at a town hall-style event staged before a friendly audience here Thursday night.
He attacked Hillary Clinton, alleging with no evidence that when the Democratic nominee says she is preparing for debates, she is actually “resting.” He went after Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Illinois, who does not support him. He knocked journalists John Harwood and John King, as well as the media in general and even the Commission on Presidential Debates.
Trump also denied that he was using the event to prepare for Sunday night’s debate in St. Louis, which will operate under a similar format.
The gathering was hardly a preview of the spontaneous questions Trump and Clinton are expected to face from voters and moderators Sunday night. It was closed to the public; the campaign invited people to attend and submit written questions in advance. Some added words of encouragement for Trump to their questions.
Trump was not pressed on his taxes, or his comments about women’s physical appearances, which have stoked widespread controversy in recent weeks.
Conservative radio host Howie Carr moderated the event. Asked by Carr whether he wanted to be told when his two minutes allotted for answering each question were up, Trump quipped: “If I’m doing well, don’t call me.”
Carr said at the outset that Trump would field about 20 questions. He took only about a dozen, on issues from foreign policy to domestic issues to Trump’s outreach to Hispanics and whether he was annoyed that running mate Mike Pence didn’t defend his positions in this week’s vice-presidential debate.
“This isn’t practice. This has nothing to do with Sunday,” Trump said. Without any substantiation, he said that what Clinton does is “not debate prep – she’s resting.”
Later, he said: “She wants to build up her energy for Sunday night.”
At one point, Trump told the crowd about his recent trip to Las Vegas, where he said Hispanics “like to be called” Latinos.
In a stark departure from his usual rallies, which draw thousands to arenas, conventions centers and sprawling fairgrounds, Trump addressed an intimate group of about a couple hundred people packed into the Sandown Town Hall building, in a state that has made town halls famous in presidential politics.
The event came at a critical moment for Trump, who has tumbled in the polls in the week and a half after his first debate with Clinton. He trails her in most key battleground states.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R), a Trump supporter whose town hall-style meetings in New Jersey catapulted him to national fame, stood and watched the candidate from the side of the room. Christie is reported to be helping Trump prepare for Sunday’s debate.
At another point, Trump said that Kirk is “not doing so well” in his reelection bid. He added, dismissively: “That’s his problem.”
Trump brushed off suggestions that he may have been irked by Pence’s well-received debate performance, knocking Harwood – a CNBC and New York Times journalist – and King, from CNN, for reporting that Trump may have been bothered that Pence didn’t defend him.
“John Harwood was the worst moderator at all the debates we had,” Trump said, speaking of the Republican primary campaign.
He said that at his first debate with Clinton, he “did hold back” from lobbing “inappropriate” personal attacks.
The Republican nominee repeatedly mentioned the heroin epidemic that has hit New Hampshire especially hard and emphasized his hard-line approach to border security as a means for fighting the flow of drugs.
“I promise the people of New Hampshire we are going to stop this crap from coming into your state,” he said.
Trump spoke with a handheld microphone, as is the custom at town hall-style events. At the start, he referred to the audio problems he experienced at the first debate, a line he has used often. He then slammed the commission that organizes the debates, saying sarcastically, “Some commission that is.”