Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump, during a campaign stop in Iowa, took aim at two of his party's nomination rivals, saying that Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio represent one of the things that's wrong with American politics. The problem, according to Trump: They're too nice to each other.
Speaking to more than 1,000 people at a Waterloo dance hall, the blunt-spoken billionaire suggested the two Floridians, who were political allies when Bush was governor and Rubio a state legislator, shouldn't engage in niceties when they're asked about the other because they're really "seething" inside about having to compete.
"This is political-speak. That's why we're not getting anywhere folks," he said. "We need something that's much tougher, much stronger."
The billionaire also criticized Rubio and Bush for their stances on immigration, calling them both "very weak" on the issue and reminding his audience of one of Bush's past comments about immigrants. "He said, remember, they come as an act of love, right?" Trump said. "In the meantime, they're killing people."
In an apparent reference to Rubio and Bush, Trump then added: "We've got to get rid of these politicians, folks."
As he so often does, Trump bragged about his top standing in state and national polls, including one released Wednesday that showed him ahead of Bush and Rubio in their home state.
Making a preemptive strike at anyone who might accuse his of being a flash-in-the-pan candidacy, the real estate mogul also contrasted his polling status with Republicans Michele Bachmann and Herman Cain, two 2012 presidential candidates who held front-runner status before their campaigns crashed hard. "For three months, we've been number one," he said. "They were there for a week."
Trump was initially joined on stage by Iowa wrestling legend Dan Gable, who made clear that he wasn't formally endorsing the billionaire, at least right now. "I'm very happy to be kind of neutral," Gable said, before adding that he likes Trump's campaign theme of "Make America Great Again."
With the Iowa caucuses less than four months away, there were signs inside the dance hall that Trump is trying to build a campaign that's sustainable by more than just his celebrity.
Volunteers stayed behind after the candidate's departure to snack on pizza and receive some training on organizing for the Feb. 1 caucuses. As people arrived for the event, they were handed cards that collected their contact information.
Still, there were also signs that not every member of Trump's audience is enough of a true believer to head out to a caucus on a cold February night.
Most of the dozen or so audience members interviewed also said they'd never before attended the caucuses. That group included Arlo Richards, a retired juvenile services worker from Waterloo.
"Time will tell," Richards said of his caucus attendance plans. "I haven't in the past."
Andy Cable, a member of the Republican Party of Iowa's state central committee who attended the event, said he remains unconvinced that Trump will be able to convert his current poll standings to actual turnout in the caucuses.
"They will show up at this kind of event," he said of the crowd in Waterloo. "The trick for the Trump people will be to get them to show up at the caucuses."
Trump's stop followed a report earlier in the day by the Washington Post that said the billionaire is preparing his first paid television advertising and plans to spend more than $20 million on ads later this year.
"I'm spending a lot of money," he said at the rally, in a reference to his campaign expenses and use of his own fortune to pay for most of them. "Not as much as I thought because, frankly, I'm getting so much publicity that I don't have to advertise so far."
Near the end of his remarks, Trump hinted of humility when one man yelled that it was just a matter of time before he's president. "I don't want to be too braggadocious," he said. "We have a long way to go."