Retaliating Trump calls Graham ‘idiot’

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump addresses the crowd during his South Carolina campaign kickoff Tuesday in Sun City in Bluffton.

BLUFFTON — Donald Trump’s caustic barbs about other Republicans found a new target Tuesday, dismissing Lindsey Graham as an “idiot” just hours after South Carolina’s senior U.S. senator called the real estate mogul a “jackass.”

“You have this guy Lindsey Graham — what a lightweight,” said Trump, one of 16 major Republican candidates, including Graham, who are seeking the GOP nomination to run for president next year.

Trump attacked Graham while addressing hundreds of people during a campaign appearance at the Hilton Head-area Sun City community, and included recounting how Graham once sought a reference from him and ended with his giving out the senator’s personal cellphone number.

Reached at the 202 number Trump gave out, Graham told a Politico reporter, “When it comes to the Donald, nothing surprises me anymore.”

Graham later tweeted that he was getting a new phone.

Earlier Tuesday, Graham appeared on “CBS This Morning” and came to the defense of close friend and political ally Sen. John McCain. Trump last week questioned why McCain, a Navy pilot who was captured and tortured after his jet was shot down during the Vietnam War, is considered a hero just because he was a prisoner of war.

“I hope there’s not much of a market for slandering POWs in my party,” Graham said of McCain’s five years in captivity. He added he wasn’t calling for Trump to bow out of the GOP race, only to tone down the rhetoric.

“Run for president,” Graham said, “but don’t be the world’s biggest jackass.”

The criticism — and other Republicans’ calls for him to withdraw from the race after his comments about McCain — had no effect on Trump’s pitch to the crowd of predominantly retirees.

“There’s a silent majority out there,” Trump said. “We’re tired of being kicked around and led by stupid people.”

The Sun City appearance was to be the kickoff of Trump’s South Carolina campaign in mid-June but was postponed because of the Emanuel AME Church shooting in Charleston in which nine people died.

More than 600 people crowded into the theater, and hundreds more watched on video in an overflow room next door. The 55-plus community is among the most affluent in the state.

Trump has been harshly criticized for saying Mexicans in the U.S. are criminals and rapists, but the reality TV star insisted his comments have influenced the debate on illegal immigration.

Until he broached the subject, “it would not even be discussed, folks,” he said, adding “I love the Mexican people,” and “they love me.”

Trump has surged in the polls since his attack on Mexican immigrants, distancing his nearest competitors by double digits among Republicans surveyed.

Pat Grzelak, an 11-year Sun City resident who backed Newt Gingrich four years ago, said he likes Trump’s independent tell-it-like-it-is style.

“He doesn’t owe any politician any favors,” Grzelak said.

Former Charleston County GOP Chairman John Steinberger, a Trump backer, went through the crowd collecting names of military veterans to counter claims that Trump’s comments about McCain had insulted all veterans.

“Mr. Trump cares about veterans more than anybody in this race,” Steinberger said.

Trump didn’t limit his disdain for his rival Republicans to South Carolina’s senator — he also lashed out at former Texas Gov. Rick Perry for doing a poor job in his state of protecting the border with Mexico.

“He put on glasses so people will think he’s smart,” Trump said of Perry.

Trump also touted his potential as commander in chief.

“I will build a military so strong that we’ll never have to use it because they are going to be saying, ‘I’m not going to mess with that guy,’ ” he said, without explaining how he would bolster America’s defense.

Trump’s views on who is a hero were not shared by two other former POWS living in the Charleston area.

Robert Dunbar, who was captured by the Germans after his B-17 bomber was shot down during World War II, said Trump was “stupid” and should be more careful about what he said about McCain and other veterans.

Vietnam War POW Dick Vaughn of Knightsville said Trump owes McCain and other POWs an apology for questioning his service to his country.

Reach Schuyler Kropf at 937-5551.