HILTON HEAD ISLAND — Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump described the campaign as “war” as he defended bringing former President Bill Clinton’s past into the 2016 race by saying Democratic rival Hillary Clinton had attacked him as the sexist one in the field.

“We had to respond to Hillary,” he told a cheering crowd of more than 2,500 crammed inside a Westin resort ballroom on Wednesday. “She said this guy has demonstrated a penchant for sexism. Nobody respects women more than Donald Trump.”

He also said that if he does not take the White House 11 months from now, his effort would have been worthless.

“If I don’t win, I will consider this a total and complete waste of time,” he said, pointing to the chance of Washington resorting to politics as usual.

This was Trump’s 14th trip to South Carolina this year as the New York real estate mogul has risen to become the undisputed leader of the Republican pack heading toward the state’s Feb. 20 GOP primary. It also comes on the heels of his latest feud with a rival, this time across the aisle with Clinton, the Democrats’ front-runner.

Earlier this week, Trump criticized her decision to showcase the former president in her campaign by having him appear next month in the early voting states.

“If Hillary thinks she can unleash her husband, with his terrible record of women abuse, while playing the women’s card on me, she’s wrong!” Trump said on Twitter on Monday to nearly 5.5 million followers.

“Remember that Bill Clinton was brought in to help Hillary against Obama in 2008. He was terrible, failed badly, and was called a racist!” he added later Monday night, referring to the Democratic primary in South Carolina where Bill Clinton was critical of some in the black community. Voters overwhelmingly chose Barack Obama.

Trump on Wednesday said it was all fair game.

“I had no choice and I did have to mention her husband’s situation,” Trump said, while not going any further into Bill Clinton’s past relationship with Monica Lewinsky or other alleged affairs.

He also tried to turn the tables on the sex card, saying Hillary Clinton is far from locking down the support of female voters in 2016.

“I’ll tell you who doesn’t like Hillary: women,” he said, charging she was a “low-energy” candidate in the vein of another rival, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

Beyond his comments on Clinton and sexism, Wednesday’s appearance was standard Trump campaign mode as he attacked ineptness in Washington, claimed he could make Mexico build a wall on the U.S. southern border and even boasted of the kind words Russian President Vladimir Putin has sent his way.

“The fact is we have to get along,” Trump said of world leaders, followed by, “The world has blown up under Barack Obama.”

While about 3,000 people without tickets didn’t make it inside, the crowd that did brought a mix of Trump faithful and the politically curious.

“I wanted to hear his message live and outside of the media snippets,” said Marion McCall, who works in health care records. She’s also looking at Chris Christie, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz in the GOP primary.

Retiree George Schuetz was more set in his support, driving seven hours from Indianland, just outside Charlotte, to hear his candidate speak.

Trump “says all the right things and he’s not a political insider, and he doesn’t owe anybody any favors,” Schuetz said. “The fact is, we need somebody to pull us out of this nosedive we’re in and I think he’s the guy to do it.”

Reach Schuyler Kropf at 843-937-5551