U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump offered a message of ethnic harmony on Friday at a Christian evangelical conference as he sought to calm concern about his criticism of a Mexican-American judge.
In a departure from his usual free-wheeling style, Trump read a carefully scripted speech from a teleprompter as part of a new push by his campaign to tone down the outspoken New Yorker’s harsh rhetoric.
His remarks included a wide-ranging attack on Democratic rival Hillary Clinton, and he said money aimed at resettling Syrian refugees in the United States should instead be spent on tackling poverty in U.S. cities.
Speaking to the conservative Faith & Freedom Coalition meeting, Trump did not mention the controversy over his charge that U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel cannot treat him fairly because of his Mexican heritage. But he did make a point of saying he would represent all Americans if elected president on Nov. 8.
“Freedom of any kind means no one should be judged by their race or their color and the tone of his hue,” Trump said. “Right now, we have a very divided nation. We’re going to bring our nation together.”
Paul Ryan, the top elected U.S. Republican, had criticized Trump for what he called a “textbook definition of a racist comment” for his remarks about the judge. Other Republican leaders warned Trump to change his tone or risk losing their support.
As Trump sought to rally more Republicans behind him, Clinton met U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts to try to shore up support from the left wing of the Democratic Party.
Clinton later addressed the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, the nonpartisan arm of the women’s health group, and had Trump trained in her sights.
“This is a man who has called women pigs, dogs and disgusting animals, it’s kind of hard to imagine counting on him to respect our fundamental rights,” said Clinton, the first woman to become the presumptive presidential nominee of a major party.
Clinton leads Trump by 11 percentage points, nearly the same as a week ago, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Friday.
Trump on Friday criticized Clinton’s willingness to accept thousands of Syrian refugees into the United States and challenged her to “replace her support for increased refugee admission” in favor of a new jobs program for inner cities.
He stopped short of repeating his call for a temporary ban on Muslims entering the United States, a proposal that has drawn heavy fire from Republicans and Democrats.
“We have to temporarily stop this whole thing with what’s going on with refugees where we don’t know where they’re coming from. We have to use the money to take care of our poorest Americans so they can come out of this horrible situation that they’re in,” he said.
A speaker at the funeral on Friday of boxing champion Muhammad Ali, a convert to Islam, spoke out against politicians promoting intolerance of Muslims.
“We will not tolerate politicians or anyone else putting down Muslims and blaming Muslims for a few people,” said Rabbi Michael Lerner, who said he attended the ceremony in Louisville Kentucky as a representative of American Jews.
Trump said Clinton’s refusal to use the phrase “radical Islamic terrorism” — favored by Republicans to describe violent Islamist militants — makes her unfit to be president.
The real estate mogul’s struggle to unify Republicans behind his insurgent candidacy was apparent at the evangelical conference, where several speakers studiously avoided speaking his name.
Former campaign rival Carly Fiorina steered clear of Trump, speaking instead of the need to prevent liberal policies taking hold.
U.S. Representative Virginia Foxx, a North Carolina Republican, said a Republican president is needed, without mentioning Trump.
“We don’t want this contest this fall to just be a contest of personalities,” she said.
But conference organizer Ralph Reed was adamant in his support for Trump, saying the New Yorker has energized the evangelical vote in a way that past Republican presidential nominees have failed to do.
“We understand that perfection is not the measure that should be applied,” Reed told the crowd.
(Additional reporting by Amanda Becker, Megan Casella, Alana Wise and Doina Chiacu in Washington and Laila Kearney in New York; Editing by Frances Kerry and Alistair Bell)