Speaking at the Problem Solvers Convention sponsored by No Labels and The Hill, Trump defended his harsh jabs at opponents as mainly defensive and necessary given the crowded field.
He promised to rein in his punches once the field narrows.
“When it becomes a different kind of situation, we’ll see I’m going to be much less divisive,” he told a crowd that packed at large auditorium at the Radisson hotel downtown.
Trump made his comments in response to a woman in the audience who asked to loud applause whether the candidate felt any concern that his use of divisive language in the campaign would undermine his ability to solve problems.
Moments before, Trump lambasted former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Sen. Marco RubioMarco RubioGOP, Dems hear different things from Trump Senate committee to vote Monday on Tillerson Tillerson met with top State official: report MORE (R-Fla.) as “puppets.”
“Believe me, they are puppets,” he told the crowd, dismissing his fellow GOP White House hopefuls as in thrall to rich donors.
Trump is one of the most sharp-elbowed presidential candidates in recent history, often shocking pundits and media observers with the bluntness of his attacks.
He has repeatedly called Bush a “low-energy” candidate and mocked Rubio for profuse sweating — recently sending him a care package of bottled spring water and towels.
Some of his harshest blows have been rained down on candidates mired in single digits in the polls.
He said former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who has since dropped out of the race, wears glasses “so people think he’s smart.”
He publicly shared Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey GrahamThe Hill's 12:30 Report Graham: Trump would make mistake in not punishing Russia Graham to vote for Trump’s EPA pick MORE’s (R-S.C.) personal cell phone number in July, forcing Graham to destroy it.
Trump says his comments have been in response to nasty attacks from opponents.
“I haven’t gone after my Republican opponents at all. Not even at all. They’ve gone after me. I only go after them when they go after me. I’m a counterpuncher. They go after me, I go after them and they drop out of the race,” he told reporters before taking the stage.
The motto of the Problem Solver’s convention is “Committed to Fix, Not Fight,” and much of the day’s discussion was devoted to improving relations between Republicans and Democrats and toning down political rhetoric.
Yet Trump, who has become a media fixation this year in large part because of his verbal bombshells, was the event’s main draw. A throng of media jostled with his security team before his prepared remarks, crushing around the candidate during an impromptu press conference outside the Green Room.
He is leading the GOP pack with polls giving him 23 percent support nationwide, more than double Bush and Rubio, whom many inside-the-Beltway Republican strategists view as the most viable general election candidates.
Trump says he doesn’t want to be constrained by political correctness and scoffed at the notion that he has been truly divisive.
“I went to Ivy League schools. I know what’s divisive, I know what’s not,” he said. “I don’t want to necessarily be politically correct, overreact. I’ve seen people, they can’t even function. I’ve seen politicians, they’re afraid to say anything because it’s not politically correct.”