DES MOINES — Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump declared victory in his dispute with Fox News as he opened his special event for veterans here Thursday, an event he hastily organized to compete with the Fox News debate he boycotted.
He told the capacity crowd of about 700 people filling an auditorium at Drake University that he raised nearly $6 million for veterans and that Fox News had been increasingly nice to him, including multiple calls, right up until the debate started, asking him to reconsider and attend.
“I didn’t want to be here. I wanted to be about 4 minutes away,” he said, referring to the debate. But he said he had to take a stand.
“You have to stick up for your rights. When you are treated badly, you have to do it. You have to stick up for your rights,” Mr. Trump says.
Mr. Tump noted the bank of TV cameras. “This is like the academy awards,” he said, adding that it’s more cameras than at the debate.
The turnout and massive coverage by news media demonstrated that Mr. Trump continues to dictate the terms of the GOP race and that likely wouldn’t come up on the short end of his war with Fox News.
Fox News issued a statement with a slightly different version of events, including that Fox News Chairman and CEO Roger Ailes had three brief conversations Thursday with Mr. Trump, “not multiple calls.”
“Trump offered to appear at the debate upon the condition that FOX News contribute $5 million to his charities. We explained that was not possible and we could not engage in a quid pro quo, nor could any money change hands for any reason,” it said. “In the last 48 hours, we’ve kept two issues at the forefront — we would never compromise our journalistic standards and we would always stand by our journalist, Megyn Kelly. We have accomplished those two goals and we are pleased with the outcome.”
Throughout the event, Mr. Trump insisted it was about veterans and not his campaign.
The event last about an hour, half as long as the debate.
Mr. Trump, a front-runner in the race, withdrew from the debate because of an ongoing feud with Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly. The hostility began after she opened the first Republican candidates debate Aug. 6 by accusing Mr. Trump of calling women he doesn’t like “fat pigs, dogs, slobs and disgusting animals.”
Mr. Trump insisted the question was unfair, and the dispute grew as he accused the network of mistreating him.
A huge crowd showed up for the event, with the line to enter the university’s Sheslow Auditorium stretching for blocks.
The crowd far exceeded the seating capacity of the auditorium and most of the people dispersed when they learned they would not be admitted.
Still, more than a hundred people remained outside in the cold and watched the event on a Jumbotron screen.
“Isn’t that better than this debate going on,” Mr. Trump said after a prevention by veterans from 22kill.com, a group that works to spread awareness of the 22 veteran suicides each day in the United States.
The event for veterans was attended by former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, who voiced support for veterans as they bask in some of the attention showered upon Mr. Trump.
Mr. Huckabee and Mr. Santorum both were relegated to the early “undercard” debate because of low poll numbers, attend the event, which coincided with the main debate.
“I had nothing to do at 8 o’clock. This works great for me,” said Mr. Huckabee.
Standing on stage beside Mr. Trump and Mr. Santorum, Mr. Huckabee said that while they may be competitors, they can come together in support of veterans who have fought to secured free elections for all Americans.
Mr. Santorum stood to the side of the podium, saying he didn’t want to be photographed with the “Trump” sign on it.
“I’m supporting another candidate but that doesn’t mean we can’t work together to help veterans,” he said.
The event drew Trump fans from outside Iowa, with some saying they drove up to five hours for what was likely their last chance to see him.
Carl Raue, 43, a retired Air Force technical sergeant, drove about two and a half hours from his home in North Omaha, Nebraska, and said he didn’t feel that Mr. Trump was exploiting veterans, as some veteran groups have charged.
“I don’t think that’s what we have here,” he said. “He knows veterans have been screwed over for a while now.”
He also sided with Mr. Trump in the showdown with Fox News.
“I would probably have done the same thing,” said Mr. Raue, who got into the event in an expedited line for veterans.
Hilary Girdner, 28, a speech therapist from Mercer, Missouri, drove up with a friend and arrived hours early for a spot near the front of the line.
She admired Mr. Trump for self-funding his campaign and pledging to forego the presidential paycheck if elected.
“That tells me he’s gong to do what’s in the best interest of the country and not fulfill the agenda of lobbyists,” she said.
The warm-up act for the event was Lynette “Diamond” Hardaway and Rochelle “Silk” Richardson, black sisters from North Carolina better known as “Diamond and Silk” who became a YouTube sensation stumping for Mr. Trump.
They made an appeal for veterans — and Mr. Trump.
“It’s about our veterans. It’s about our wounded warriors,” Mrs. Hardaway told the crowd, her sister egging her with gesticulating outbursts of “mmmhmmm” and “that’s right.”
“You are our heroes and our sheroes,” Mrs. Hardaway told the vets in the crowd, adding that they should support Mr. Trump. “He’s the only one who has you in mind.”
She also made an appeal that targeted minority voters who traditionally vote Democratic.
“We cannot continue to vote for the wrong person. If we vote left we get left. It is time for us to start voting right.”
• S.A. Miller can be reached at email@example.com.
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