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In Sarasota, Donald Trump says the world is abusing the United States

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Donald Trump has flirted with running a serious presidential campaign four times in the past 18 years — in 1988, when he was arguably at the zenith of his popularity as his Art of the Deal memoir topped The New York Times best-seller list, as well as 2000, 2004 and four years ago. So even though he says he’s going to surprise some people when he makes his announcement about 2016 next month, it’s best to remain skeptical.

Trump was in Sarasota on Thursday night, speaking before an estimated crowd of 1,500 at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Center, as he was honored as the Sarasota Republican Party’s “Statesman of the Year.”

“But I said, ‘I just got it,'” he said to laughs, recounting how Sarasota Republican Party Chairman Joe Gruters recently called him about making another appearance in Sarasota, three years after he was given the same honor. “I don’t mind coming because I love the people, so I don’t mind coming, but maybe we can change the name or something?”

The business tycoon arrived about 20 minutes later than anticipated to the event, but officials were in no hurry to get him on stage before the event, as he took individual photos with about 50 people with VIP access, and then fielded questions from just a handful of reporters before hitting the stage.

When asked about Florida’s presidential contenders, Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio, Trump called their responses on Iraq over the past week “incompetent,” adding that he’s not sure if he sees much of a difference between them.

Earlier this week Fox News announced that they would hold their first GOP presidential debate in August with the 10 leading candidates via the polls, which could leave as many as 10 other candidates on the sidelines. Trump said that was fine with him.

“First of all, I have great polling numbers, and nobody thinks I’m running, which is interesting,” he said. He admits that most people don’t think he’s going to run. “They ask, why would you give up your life to do this? And I give up my life because I want to make this country great again. The reason is this room is packed tonight … because people want to hear it. They’re tired of politicians — other than the politicians in this room — I have to add that, I mean, I am their guest. But they’re tired of it. All talk, no action. But they’re tired of it. Bad deals with China. Bad deals with Mexico. Horrible deals with Saudi Arabia. You know Saudi Arabia makes a billion dollars a day. And they give us nothing. And we protect them.”

Trump said this with those VIPs listening in the background and frequently erupting in laughter. Trump used many of the same lines a little later in his speech, some of which generated as many laughs, some that didn’t.

He says the country is in bad shape. “You look at Baltimore. You look at places that are just burning up. You think that’s good? … Everybody abuses the U.S. because we have horrible negotiators. We have people who that are not smart. And the world is abusing the United States.”

Trump has incredible hubris when it comes to discussing his negotiating skills. It’s a theme he talked a lot about in his speech, blasting President Obama and John Kerry’s lack of said skills, most prominently in his opinion when it comes to the pending nuclear deal with Iran.

“Worst negotiators I’ve ever seen,” he says when talking about Iran. “We have a president who’s incompetent.”

He said that nuclear negotiations are much more serious than global warming, which led him go into a riff on how he can’t watch the news these days because it’s all weather related for the first 15 minutes of a broadcast. Some of it was funny, but hardly what we would call “presidential” in its tone.

He did say that he wouldn’t negotiate with Iran until they release the four U.S. hostages they currently hold.  “I give myself a 94.3 percent chance that I’d be successful,” he boasted. But he said if he wasn’t successful, there’d be no ransom, and he would double the economic sanctions against them, again leading to huge cheers from the audience.

In the press conference, this reporter asked Trump what he thought of the Trans-Pacific Partnership? “I think it stinks!,” he replied. “I think it’s terrible. Because they don’t cover currency manipulation. If you look at China, if you look at Japan, they beat us on currency manipulation. And we don’t even talk about it.”

He said that the U.S. should have trade agreements with individual countries. “It’s a stupid agreement. It’s made by the same people who gave you Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl,” referring to the U.S. soldier who went AWOL in Afghanistan, and was returned back to the U.S. in an exchange for Taliban prisoners.

The Bergdahl agreement enrages Trump, who talked extensively about him and that exchange with the audience a little later.

When asked about Rand Paul’s (near) filibuster on the Senate floor on Wednesday night regarding the Patriot Act, Trump said he liked Paul, but said, “I side on the side of security. OK? If somebody has to listen to my phone call? My phone calls are not that exciting, unfortunately for me. I side on the cause of security, because the world is trying to destroy us. Right now.”

Trump was never more audacious than when asked how he would tackle immigration. “You need a border. You need a wall. And nobody can build a wall like Trump. I build the greatest buildings in the world. I will build a great wall that people aren’t getting over. Believe me, they don’t come over my wall. These walls they build,” referring to the current administration, “they go right through them. And Mexico will pay for the wall. Because Mexico has been taking advantage of this country.”

In his speech talking about Mexico, he said the United States had become a “dumping ground” for our southern neighbors. “We’re getting drug dealers, drug lords, and we’re getting murderers and rapists.”

Although Trump didn’t hint in his speech explicitly about his plans regarding the campaign, he might have inadvertently let the cat out of the bag when he talked about the hundreds of thousands of dollars that Bill and Hillary Clinton have been receiving for their speeches, as revealed last week.

“Actually the story came out where (Bill) Clinton makes $400,000 a speech. But the only one who gets more money for speaking is me. I get over a million dollars and everyone says (makes high-pitched voice) ‘I can’t believe it.’ I’m speaking for nothing. This politics is costing me a fortune!”

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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