NEW YORK (AP) — Donald Trump has no regrets.
The bombastic real estate mogul and reality television star said Wednesday he has no second thoughts about anything he said in his blustering — and oft lampooned — 45-minute campaign kickoff speech.
That includes a remark that portrayed immigrants from Mexico as “bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime, they’re rapists, and some, I assume, are good people.” It drew condemnation from the Mexican government as “biased and absurd.”
“I know the speech went well. There’s nothing in there I didn’t mean,” Trump told The Associated Press in an interview.
“I did it with no notes, no teleprompter. I like going off-script a little bit,” Trump said. “I meant everything I said, and I think a lot of it resonated with different groups of people.”
Trump made the comment about immigrants while boasting about his ability to fortify the U.S. southern border, saying “nobody builds walls better than me, believe me.”
He was quickly criticized by several Mexican-American immigrant groups, as well as Mexico’s interior minister, Miguel Angel Osorio Chong, who in a statement said, “the remarks by Donald Trump seem biased and absurd.”
“He surely doesn’t know the contributions made by migrants from practically every nation in the world who have supported the development of the United States,” he said.
Yet Trump is reveling in the attention, even if his speech was widely mocked online and by the New York Daily News, which used a photo illustration to dress up Trump as a clown on its front page. Trump dismissed the tabloid as having “no gravitas” and boasted he has 1.7 million Facebook fans, dwarfing any other Republican in the race for president.
Speculation swirled about a possible Trump run in 1988, 2000 and 2004, though he insisted those flirtations were due to “people pulling at me to run.” He said he only seriously considered running previously in 2012.
“The reason I’m doing it this time is that the country is at a critical stage,” he said. “We’re being abused. We’re being taken advantage of. Right now, we have no leadership and we’re facing oblivion.”
Trump took pains to point out the steps he is taking to embark on a full-fledged campaign.
After a stop in New Hampshire on Wednesday, he is off to South Carolina and then on to Maryland and Illinois later this month. He has 15 days to file required paperwork with the Federal Elections Commission and 30 days to submit detailed financial disclosure forms.
Trump said Wednesday that he would meet both deadlines without asking for extensions.
Trump has totaled his net worth at roughly $9 billion, though Forbes magazine’s analysis of billionaires pegs it at about $4.1 billion. Trump said his company is doing better now than four years ago, but dismissed the notion that a healthier balance sheet made him more willing to abandon his reality show and make a run in 2016.
Trump is currently polling well enough to land a spot in one of the early Republican debates, potentially pushing a more politically established candidate off the stage. His well-honed TV skills could lead to a buzzworthy performance that keeps him in the media spotlight.
“He would be a very big annoyance to establishment Republicans,” said political consultant Hank Sheinkopf, who has watched Trump in New York for decades. “He’ll say things they won’t say, and he’ll take people on they won’t take on.”