Swooping in from the night, the clatter of helicopter blades drowned out only by the theme song from Air Force One, Donald Trump took the stage in an outdoor amphitheatre in Boca Raton and made an admission. He is not universally adored.
“My personality, eh, they don’t love it so much, but that’s okay,” he offered. “But who cares? I am a better person than the people I am running against, that I can tell you.”
Yet as the race for the Republican nod reaches another key pass with voting in five states on Tuesday, including Florida, reminders abound of a record of both personal and business behaviour suggesting that Mr Trump’ problems go deeper than personality – that goodness might not be a top selling point either.
Ask those who thought they were buying a dream when they invested in the Trump International Hotel & Tower on the beach in Fort Lauderdale, only to see Mr Trump walk away from the project four years ago. A white cement hulk designed to look like an ocean liner, it is still not complete.
“It was an outright lie,” Michael Goodson, one of the buyers who now has a pending lawsuit against Mr Trump, told the Miami Herald. “I thought the last thing Donald Trump would do was walk away.”
The debacle has haunted the developer in the last days of campaigning in Florida, with front page treatment by the Herald and other state newspapers and negative television advertising by outside political action group reminding voters about Felix Sater, an executive on the Fort Lauderdale project when Mr Trump was still involved. Sater was jailed once for stabbing a man with a broken glass and pleaded guilty to participating in a scheme with the Gambino family to defraud investors.
In a 2013 deposition arising from one of the many suits filed against him in the case, Mr Trump insisted he barely knew Sater. A spokesman for his campaign, Corey Lewandowski, similarly downplayed any links between the men.
“Mr Trump has tens of thousands of employees across the country, well across the world, candidly,” he said. “I don’t know who this individual is. He has nothing to do with the campaign, I will tell you that.”
But the aborted project has given an opening for Mr Trump’s opponents.
“Trump entrusted convicts to help him run his company,” the TV spot booms. “Who would he entrust to run the country?” Senator Ted Cruz has called for a probe of Mr Trump’s alleged past dealings with Sater.
Donald Trump's most controversial quotes
Donald Trump's most controversial quotes
1/14 On Isis:
"Some of the candidates, they went in and didn’t know the air conditioner didn’t work and sweated like dogs, and they didn’t know the room was too big because they didn’t have anybody there. How are they going to beat ISIS?"
2/14 On immigration:
"I will build a great wall — and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me —and I’ll build them very inexpensively. I will build a great, great wall on our southern border, and I will make Mexico pay for that wall. Mark my words."
3/14 On Free Trade:
"Free trade is terrible. Free trade can be wonderful if you have smart people. But we have stupid people."
PAUL J. RICHARDS | AFP | Getty Images
4/14 On Mexicans:
"When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re sending people that have lots of problems. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists."
5/14 On China:
"I just sold an apartment for $15 million to somebody from China. Am I supposed to dislike them?... I love China. The biggest bank in the world is from China. You know where their United States headquarters is located? In this building, in Trump Tower."
6/14 On work:
"If you're interested in 'balancing' work and pleasure, stop trying to balance them. Instead make your work more pleasurable."
7/14 On success:
"What separates the winners from the losers is how a person reacts to each new twist of fate."
8/14 On life:
"Everything in life is luck."
9/14 On ambition:
"You have to think anyway, so why not think big?"
10/14 On his opponents:
"Bush is totally in favour of Common Core. I don't see how he can possibly get the nomination. He's weak on immigration. He's in favour of Common Core. How the hell can you vote for this guy? You just can't do it."
11/14 On Obamacare:
"You have to be hit by a tractor, literally, a tractor, to use it, because the deductibles are so high. It's virtually useless. And remember the $5 billion web site?... I have so many web sites, I have them all over the place. I hire people, they do a web site. It costs me $3."
12/14 On Barack Obama:
"Obama is going to be out playing golf. He might be on one of my courses. I would invite him. I have the best courses in the world. I have one right next to the White House."
13/14 On himself:
"Love him or hate him, Trump is a man who is certain about what he wants and sets out to get it, no holds barred. Women find his power almost as much of a turn-on as his money."
14/14 On America:
"The American Dream is dead. But if I get elected president I will bring it back bigger and better and stronger than ever before and we will make America great again."
As Mr Trump closes in on the Republican nomination, so media scrutiny of him generally has been ratcheting up, little of it supportive of his “good person” claim. In as many days, three major outlets – the Associated Press, Politico and the New York Times – have all set about picking at the Trump myth.
Politico call him out for making one “misstatement” every five minutes, on average, on the stump. Consider his Boca Raton event. He put the US trade deficit with China at $500bn, for the last 12 months of available data it reached $364bn. He boasted of self-funding his campaign; recent filings show he raised about $7.5m in individual donations.
The AP reported that as Mr Trump advocates scrapping a visa programme that offers foreign students work experience in the US, he is exploiting it to staff a huge Trump hotel in Chicago. The Washington Post, meanwhile, investigated Mr Trump’s range of men’s clothing and a deal signed with Phillips-Van Heusen, a manufacturer of affordable shirts produced by foreign workers in factories in 85 countries. Potentially more damaging still are revelations in The Washington Post that seemingly undercut the pledge repeatedly made by Mr Trump to stop American companies going overseas to make their goods, at the cost of US jobs at home. The report regards an attempt by Mr Trump in 2004 to find an apparel firm to produce quality shirts that would bear his name on the label. He eventually settled on Phillips-Van Heusen which has factories in 85 different countries. An executive who helped him find the firm told the paper that the question of geography never came up. “Finding the biggest with the best practices is what was important to him,” Jeff Danzer recalled. “Finding a company that made in America was never something that was specified.” According to the Post, the Donald J Collection of shirts, as well as eyeglasses, perfumes, cufflinks and suits all bearing his name, are variously made in Bangladesh, China, Honduras and other low-cost countries.
Mr Trump has faced questions about selling ties made in China at debates and was pressed on the issue this week by CNN. “I talk about my ties in speeches,” he contended. “I’m open. I say my ties many times are made in China. It’s very hard to have apparel made in this country.”
For the millions who have already purchased a Trump hat these attempts to take him down are merely mysterious. “They are just jealous and they want attention,” Maria Dujack, 59, a Polish-American who was born 12 miles from Auschwitz, said of protesters assembled just outside the Boca Raton venue. “Let’s give him a chance for four years.”
* Senator Marco Rubio vowed to “shock the country” by winning his state of Florida in defiance of polling that showed him trailing the Republican front-runner, Donald Trump. A giant trove of delegates will be in play for the contenders in both parties as five states hold primary elections. Democrat Bernie Sanders must perform well in Ohio, Illinois and Missouri to have any hope of catching Hillary Clinton.Reuse content