PHOENIX (Reuters) - Boasting of his rising poll numbers, real estate mogul Donald Trump on Saturday railed against his rivals in the 2016 presidential race and criticized companies such as Macy’s that cut ties with him over his inflammatory comments about Mexican immigrants.
“Thousands and thousands of people are cutting up their Macy’s credit card. I love it,” the Republican candidate said during a defiant hour-long speech that drew thousands of people.
Since Trump accused Mexico last month of sending rapists and criminals to the United States, numerous businesses have cut ties with him, including NBC Universal, Univision, and NASCAR.
He defiantly made fun of each of them, recounting in detail a phone conversation during which Macy’s CEO Terry Lundgren told him the retailer would drop its Trump menswear line.
His rally, originally planned for a hotel ballroom, was moved to a convention center after more than 9,000 people asked for tickets, organizers said.
Numbers inside the standing-room-only room were far smaller than that total, although Trump said “thousands” could not get in. Trump was joined at the rally by local sheriff Joe Arpaio, who has been sued by the Justice Department for racially profiling Latinos.
Trump said his degree from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, his 12 bestselling business books, his track record on reality television and his wealth were evidence of his qualifications for the nation’s highest office.
“I’m really smart,” he said.
He told the crowd he would be able to get hostages returned “in an hour” and would tax Mexico each time someone crossed the border illegally. He said he could convince the head of Ford Motor Co to move a plant back to the United States from Mexico overnight, with a couple of phone calls.
“It’s so simple,” he said.
A Reuters-Ipsos poll released on Saturday showed Trump neck-and-neck with former Florida Governor Jeb Bush atop the large field of contenders for the Republican nomination.
“How could I be tied with this guy? He’s terrible!” Trump said in his speech.
“If you people go with Bush, you’re going to lose,” he said.
Other targets in his off-the-cuff speech: Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, President Barack Obama and U.S. Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy. He mocked Secretary of State John Kerry for breaking his leg in a bike accident.
“We have stupid leaders, OK?” he said.
He also criticized the Mexican government and the “dishonest” press. He called civil rights leader Reverend Al Sharpton a “con man.”
Trump’s rhetoric has alarmed Republicans and drawn attention to the party’s awkward debate over immigration. Republicans have struggled to attract support from Latino voters without alienating supporters concerned about illegal immigration.
Ahead of the rally, Senator John McCain of Arizona, the Republican presidential candidate in 2008, said Trump was creating a “circus” that risked damaging the party.
Outside the rally, Democrats from Tucson shared water bottles with about 100 protesters, who chanted “No more hate! No more hate!” to the beat of a drum.
“The only thing I can tell you is that it is awakening the Hispanic community,” said Eduardo Sainz, 22. “We’re keeping a tally of who is on our side and who isn’t. The Hispanic community won’t forget in 2016.”
Protesters briefly raised a banner inside the speech reading “Stop the hate” but it was quickly pulled down amid pushing and shoving, and they were escorted out.
“I wonder if the Mexican government sent them over here. I think so,” Trump said.
After the speech, Scottsdale, Arizona Republican Joan Ewart, 81, said she liked how Trump is not financially beholden to anyone.
“That’s the beauty of Donald Trump. He can say anything,” she said.
(This story has been refiled to fix a typo in paragraph 19)
Reporting by Brad Poole, writing by Roberta Rampton; Editing by David Gregorio