US elections 2016: Donald Trump refuses to back down from 'Islam hates us' comments during debate

Mr Trump said amending his words would be 'surrendering to political correctness'

Donald Trump refused at a Republican debate in Miami on Thursday to back off his assertion that “Islam hates us”, saying amending his words would be surrendering to political correctness.

At a two-hour, televised melee that was striking mostly for its relative civility, the four remaining rivals – also on stage were Senator Ted Cruz of Texas and Ohio Governor John Kasich – highlighted their differences and their areas of agreement on topics ranging from normalising relations with Cuba and climate change, both hot topics in Florida, to immigration and trade.

But the static returned with Mr Trump continuing to suggest that Islam as a whole has pitted itself against the US.  “I am not interested in being politically correct.  I am interested in being correct,” Mr Rubio declared to loud applause.  “We are going to have to work together with Muslims who are not radicalised. We are going to have to work with the Jordanians, with the Saudi Kingdom”.

It has been his stance on Muslims, especially his pledge to keep them from entering the US, that has both been a main engine of Mr Trump’s campaign, and the main source of angst in the party establishment that such positions will make him a catastrophic nominee. Asked specifically whether he meant “all of Islam” when he made the comments earlier this week to CNN , Mr Trump would only say: “I mean a lot of them…we have a serious, serious problem of hate. There is tremendous hate.”

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Republican presidential candidates Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, John Kasich and Donald Trump

Mr Rubio, for whom voting in Florida, his home state, next Tuesday represents his last chance to keep standing, took the bait from moderators to lambast President Barack Obama’s courtship of Cuba, even though polls show that most Americans and even most Cuban Americans in Florida, of whom he is one, favour improved relations. Mr Cruz similarly torched the rapprochement.

The Florida Senator similarly declined to moderate his skeptical stance on man’s part in global warning, despite Miami having more angst related to rising of sea levels than anywhere else in the US. “Sure the climate is changing…the climate has always been changing,” he said, ridiculing the notion that laws passed in Washington can “change the weather”.

The mission of three men on stage was as it has been for weeks now: to stop Mr Trump.  But the moment of truth may now be upon them. If the billionaire wins Florida and sweeps away Mr Kasich in Ohio on Tuesday – for the first time in this race, both will be winner-take-all states in terms of delegate numbers - he may be in the fast lane to the nomination with no hay bales or tyre spikes left to stop him. 

Mr Cruz dismissed what he called the “fevered dreams” of some in the party establishemnt about open convention in July when a new candidate might be parachuted in if none of the current candidates have 50 per cent plus one of the available delegates.  He implored the party to rally behind him as the only viable alternative to the property tycoon.  “If people watching this recognise that if we choose Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton wins.  If you recognise that, come and join us.” 

For his part, Mr Trump, who showed a far more sober side, pointed to the record turnout being seen in the Republican primaries.  “They are voting out of enthusiasm, they are voting out love.  Some of these people have frankly never voted before. …the whole world is talking about it.  The Republican establishment or whatever you call it should embrace what’s happening.”

Touching on a nerve in Florida, Mr Rubio said what many in his party have said before: that changes will have to be made in the social security programme if it isn’t going to run out of money, suggesting a hike in the retirement for men to 68 soon and 70 a few years hence.  Mr Trump, however, said he would do no such thing and the cash shortfalls would be made up by removing abuse and inefficiencies.

“It’s my intention to leave Social Security as it is,” Mr Trump said.  “I want to make our country rich again we can afford it.

Mr Trump confirmed that Dr Ben Carson would be endorsing him early on Friday morning.  That once unlikely joining of hands is set to be meticulously staged before the cameras at Mar-A-Lago, Mr Trump’s opulent Palm Beach home that doubles as a high priced beach club.  

On immigration, Mr Trump in one breath admitted he has repeatedly exploited the H1B programme of temporary visa for skilled foreign workers to take jobs at his businesses, and in the next said those visas harmed American workers and should be outlawed. “I’m a businessman and I have to do what I have to do,” he replied to mutterings from the audience.

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