WASHINGTON — Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump offered a message of ethnic harmony 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 freewheeling 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.
Trump’s 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 annual conference of the conservative Faith & Freedom Coalition, 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 Trump did make a point of saying he would represent all Americans if elected president 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 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.
Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee who led a movement to derail Trump’s nomination, told CNN he would not consider running for the White House.
Romney blasted Trump for comments that he said denigrated Mexicans, women and religion.
“Presidents have an impact on the nature of our nation, and trickle-down racism, trickle-down bigotry and trickle-down misogyny — all these things are extraordinarily dangerous to the heart and character of America,” he said.
Romney said he expects Trump to get the Republican nomination, but said that he will not vote for either Trump or Clinton. He left open the possibility of casting a ballot for the Libertarian Party candidate, former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson.
As Trump sought to rally more Republicans behind him, Clinton met with U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts to try and 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 Friday.
Trump on Friday criticized Clinton’s willingness to accept thousands of Syrian refugees into the U.S. 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 U.S., 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,” Trump said. “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.”
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 Faith & Freedom 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. Rep. 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 failed to do.
“We understand that perfection is not the measure that should be applied,” Reed told the crowd.