Real estate mogul and TV personality Donald Trump barged his way into the 2016 US presidential election yesterday in a blitz of boasts, inflammatory comments and attacks on both fellow Republicans and President Barack Obama's administration.
Trump wallowed in political incorrectness as he insulted everyone from Mexican immigrants to Jeb Bush and US ally Saudi Arabia in announcing his bid for the Republican nomination.
"I will be the greatest jobs president that God ever created," Trump predicted in a long, combative speech in the atrium of Trump Tower on Manhattan's Fifth Avenue.
The billionaire, widely seen as having almost no chance of winning the nomination, brings an outsized personality and a penchant for controversy to an unusually large group of Republicans vying for the presidency.
In highly provocative comments, Trump accused Mexico of sending rapists and other criminals to live in the United States.
"They're sending people that have lots of problems and they're bringing their problems," he said. "They're bringing drugs, they're bringing crime, they're rapists, and some I assume are good people, but I speak to border guards and they tell us what we are getting."
Eleven other Republicans have announced they are running for next November's election, the latest being former Florida Governor Jeb Bush who officially launched his bid on Monday.
Trump hit out at Bush for backing the Common Core education initiative to set national education standards, which is mistrusted by many Republicans.
"Bush is totally in favour of Common Core. I don't see how he can possibly get the nomination. He's weak on immigration, he's in favour of Common Core. How the hell can you vote for this guy? You just can't do it."
Trump, who owns several hotels and hosts the reality show ‘The Celebrity Apprentice’ on NBC, boasted having US$8.7 billion in net worth, a number he says he released so that America understands he is not a loser.
Trump has flirted with the notion of running in past elections, but has ultimately backed out each time. This time, he said, the United States needs him to come to the rescue and revive a "dead" American dream.
"Our enemies are getting stronger and stronger by the day and we as a country are getting weaker," he said.
Lively debate with Trump
Republican strategists and officials cringe at the thought of Trump grabbing attention away from the party's more serious candidates as it tries to win back the White House after defeats in 2008 and 2012.
"Donald Trump is a great entertainer and developer, but his ideas of what to do as president won't grow the economy," said David McIntosh, president of the influential Club for Growth, a conservative group which advocates for small government.
Trump's first big challenge is to make it into a Fox News debate of Republicans in August that will be open to only the top 10 candidates in national polling.
As it stands, Trump languishes in 12th place, ahead only of former New York governor George Pataki, in a Reuters/Ipsos online poll of 13 Republicans who have either declared their candidacies or, like Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, are likely to. Bush leads the poll.
In other surveys, Trump has high negative ratings, with more than 50 percent of Americans saying they will never consider voting for him.
Yesterday, he saved his wildest attacks for foreign policy, frequently accusing China of stealing American jobs through crafty business practices and portraying himself as a tough negotiator who would beat Beijing at its own game.
"Hey, I'm not saying they're stupid. I like China. I just sold an apartment for US$15 million to somebody from China," he said.
"No, I love them, but their leaders are much smarter than our leaders," he said. "It's like, take the New England Patriots and Tom Brady and have them play your high school football team. That's the difference between China's leaders and our leaders. They are ripping us."
He urged Saudi Arabia to be more appreciative of the military and diplomatic support it has received from the United States for decades. "Saudi Arabia without us is gone," he warned.