Trump’s RedState rejection revs up presidential race

For months, billionaire Donald Trump has defied political gravity, as controversial statements and attacks have only enhanced his standing atop the polls for the Republican presidential nomination.

Trump is testing his limits — perhaps past the breaking point — with comments about Fox News host Megyn Kelly that led to him abruptly getting yanked from the RedState Gathering of conservative activists in Atlanta. His fellow candidates, most of whom have tiptoed around Trump so far, escalated their criticism.

The show went on without him, but Trump remained the dominant topic as leading Republicans, including former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, swept into town to woo activists convened by News 95.5 & AM 750 WSB talk jock and RedState blog editor Erick Erickson.

Trump told CNN on Friday that “you could see there was blood coming out of her eyes. Blood coming out of her wherever” as Kelly questioned him during Thursday’s Republican presidential debate. Erickson announced hours later that Trump would not speak at Saturday night’s closing party at the College Football Hall of Fame.

Erickson, calling the remarks inappropriate, said Trump bullied the reporter for asking a tough question.

“I don’t want Donald Trump in the room with my daughter tonight, so that’s why he was disinvited,” Erickson said, an announcement that was greeted by applause and a smattering of boos from the 700 attendees as the day began.

Trump later tried to claim he was not talking about menstruation and anyone who thought otherwise was a “deviant.” In a statement via his campaign, Trump said “her wherever” meant Kelly’s nose.

“Many of the 900 people that wanted to hear Mr. Trump speak tonight have been calling and emailing — they are very angry at Erickson and the others that are trying to be so politically correct,” Trump’s statement read. “To them Mr. Trump says, ‘We will catch you at another time soon.’ ”

Later in the afternoon, the news broke that Trump had parted ways with top adviser Roger Stone. Trump still refused to apologize in an interview with The Washington Post.

Texas U.S. Sen. Cruz said he didn’t want to join in, but he added, “we’re not going to defeat the Washington Cartel by obsessing over the politics of personality.”

Walker said he sided with the quick Trump condemntation by fellow candidate Carly Fiorina — the only woman in the GOP field. Walker called the comments “inappropriate” before pivoting to “the real opponent, who is Hillary Clinton.”

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee became exasperated at repeated Trump questions during a news conference.

“I’m running for president,” Huckabee said. “I’m not running for the social media critic for somebody else who’s running for president. You guys can ask him all day. Talk to me about issues. Talk to me about my tax plan.”

The sharpest rebuke came from Bush, who said: “Give me a break. Do we want to win? Do we want to turn away 53 percent of voters?”

“Your decision is the right one,” he told Erickson. “Mr. Trump ought to apologize.”

Trump has surged in polls in Georgia and across the nation with blunt talk against all manner of targets — from Mexicans to U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. His willingness to flout political convention and tangle with anyone, any time is part of his appeal.

At the RedState event on Saturday morning, bleary-eyed attendees awoke to surprise at the news that Trump would no longer attend. Michael Pemberton, a 66-year-old retiree from Kentucky, scrawled “I AM DONALD TRUMP” on the back of a question card and tacked it to his lapel when he learned the news.

“He has a right to speak,” said Pemberton, who said he won’t return to RedState next year. “You have every right to be offended. I wish to listen to all these people, giving them a fair hearing and deciding on your own.”

There were signs that the act was wearing thin, even among Trump’s backers, but that censoring him is not the answer.

“Of course (what Trump said) was obviously crude — it was another ‘Trump,’ ” said Rebecca Landau of Ellijay. “But the whole point is that’s part of this process, for us to weed out how many of these Trumpisms can he say before we go: ‘It’s not cute anymore.’ Again that’s our decision to make, not Erick Erickson’s decision to make.”

Scott Johnson of Marietta fears that Erickson’s decision may have a surprising consequence.

“He should have to come and answer for what he said,” Johnson said of Trump. “I’m afraid it’s things like this that will make him make a third-party run.”

A feud with Kelly pits Trump against one of the most-watched hosts on the most-popular cable news network, which is beloved by conservatives. Erickson told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that no one from Fox asked him to uninvite Trump.

Erickson, however, is a pundit with his own past of controversial statements.

Erickson has repeatedly referred to Texas state Sen. Wendy Davis as “Abortion Barbie.” That earned him the ire of another Fox News host: Greta Van Susteren, who called Erickson a “jerk” and a “repeat offender.”

On Saturday, Erickson said what Trump said about Kelly was different than what he said about Davis.

“Oh yeah, I think it’s fundamentally worse,” Erickson told the AJC. “Wendy Davis’ profile in Vogue was about her pink shoes and good looks. They were trying to use that until it became a negative connotation. All Megyn Kelly did was ask a tough question.”

Erickson referred to a Supreme Court justice as a “child molester” and sparred with Kelly himself over women working outside the home. Erickson noted that he apologized for the child molester comment.

Trump’s supporters flooded Erickson with vulgar tweets and emails, some of which Erickson read aloud to the crowd with an impish grin. He offered attendees a refund for the party’s $100 entry fee.

Trump had his own Twitter message for RedState: “I miss you all, and thanks for all of your support. Political correctness is killing our country. ‘weakness.’ ”

Staff writer Kristina Torres contributed to this article.

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