RIVER NORTH — Donald Trump, the fractious real estate mogul, reality TV star and newly announced Republican presidential candidate, spoke to a sold-out City Club luncheon Monday while dealing with fallout from his suggestion that many Mexicans entering the country illegally are "rapists."
Trump entered through a side entrance of Maggiano's Banquets, 111 W. Grand Ave., as about 100 protesters outside chanted, "Hate speech is not presidential!" The jeers were in response to comments Trump made about Mexicans, calling many undocumented immigrants "rapists," in his speech declaring himself a Republican presidential candidate.
"I love Mexico," Trump insisted Monday, "but every time I talk about it they accuse me of being a racist."
Trump cited a Huffington Post story pulled from Fusion suggesting that 80 percent of Mexican women and girls crossing the U.S. border are raped along the way, adding, “There is no apology, because what I said is right.”
The Associated Press reported Monday that NBC is ending its relationship with Trump, halting his reality show "The Apprentice" over the comments. Trump insisted it was because he was running for office, blaming the equal-time provision for candidates.
Early on in the speech, he attempted to clarify his comments and said he'd been treated unfairly by the media.
"I've been very, very strong on immigration," he said as one person in the audience applauded. "I love the Mexican people."
He also said he got very "good reviews" on his announcement and added, “We have to be less politically correct" in America.
"I didn't see any protest," he said. "But I love the people of South America."
Since the "rapists" comments, the Spanish-language Univision TV network said it won't air his Miss USA Pageant, and a petition campaign was launched asking NBC to cancel "The Apprentice." Trump said Monday he intended to sue Univision if it refused to air the pageant, and the matter would most likely end up in the courts.
He was more philosophical about "The Apprentice," saying he would step back from his show to focus on the presidential campaign. He also cited a CNN poll on Republican candidates that he said ranked him "the best" on terrorism, trade and the economy, and running second behind former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush overall.
Trump dismissed Bush's as-yet-unannounced candidacy, saying, "It's not gonna happen," and explained his current runner-up status in polls by saying, "I think it's because I tell the truth."
Trump said, "I fix things," promising to "make the country great again."
"The American Dream is dead," Trump proclaimed, quickly adding, "but I'm gonna make it bigger and better and stronger than ever before."
Trump said his approach was simple, in that "the only thing I need is to do what's right for the country."
Trump praised both Mexico and China for their tough trade negotiations, saying, "Everybody is taking advantage of us because we don't have the right leadership.
"I will be the greatest jobs president God ever created," Trump added. "I will take jobs back from China, I will take jobs back from Mexico."
Before the speech, Trump complained about its location, saying the standing-room-only luncheon for more than 300 people could have been even larger, with 2,000 people on a waiting list. The City Club resisted Trump's call for it to be moved from its usual location at Maggiano's.
Roosevelt University Professor Paul Green, acting as the master of ceremonies, said there were about 5,000 requests for tickets, which he called "the greatest demand" for a City Club luncheon.
"Why didn't you just pick a larger place?" Trump countered. "You would've made a fortune."
Trump said state-run casinos are not a cure-all for government deficits, as has been proposed for Chicago, and that "gaming is a mixed blessing," bringing with it problems with crime and gambling addiction. The Confederate flag, he added, "should be in the museum." Yet his next public-relations flap might be with the Saudi military. Trump said Saudi Arabia is third in the world in military spending, but added, "I don't know if these soldiers are gonna run if there's a shot fired."
Trump went on to answer questions from the audience, where he said dismantling Obamacare and fixing the "disaster" Environmental Protection Agency are some of his top priorities. He also said he wouldn't "choke" the way Mitt Romney had if he snags the Republican nomination.
"I think Mitt Romney's a really nice guy, but I was so disappointed with his performance," Trump said. "He should have won that election."
Trump added that President Barack Obama was on more television shows than Romney before the election.
The New York City business mogul arrived with scores to settle in Chicago. He has sparred with architecture critics and local politicians over the controversial "Trump" sign on his Downtown skyscraper at Wabash Avenue and the Chicago River, insisting, "everybody loves it," even after Mayor Rahm Emanuel said it left the building "scarred," and Ald. Joe Moreno (1st) called it "extremely tasteless."
He defended it Monday as well.
"I'm very proud of the building we have in Chicago," he said. "The sign, people love it. I said that it would be the 'Hollywood' sign of Chicago. That's what it is."
He said he saw people lining up along the river to take photos in front of it when he got into town.
Trump has also had to defend himself against charges of bait-and-switch sales tactics at Trump Tower.
More recently, Trump has bridled over being depicted as a clown by the New York Daily News when he announced his candidacy for president earlier this month.
He said he is out to revive American prestige, adding, "Today, we're a laughingstock, a joke. We're all a bunch of clowns."
State Republican Party Chairman and Cook County Commissioner Timothy Schneider (Bartlett) said he was keeping an open mind on whether Trump would emerge as a serious candidate or a distraction on the campaign trail. "I think he's a remarkable entrepreneur," Schneider said, adding, "I'm gonna let the voters decide that."
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