SARASOTA, Fla. -- What's atop Donald Trump's bucket list?
"Get Mitt Romney elected," Trump said Sunday after accepting Sarasota County's Statesman of the Year Award. "We need a new president. We need somebody who can really help this country become a great country again. Right now, we're a country in decline, in serious decline."
The real estate mogul and former presidential candidate spoke in front of a packed house of more than 1,000 at the Ritz Carlton ballroom, answered questions during a news conference and later sat down for a one-on-one interview.
Trump addressed a wide range of issues, including the campaign's tenor, Rep. Todd Akin's rape comments and the real estate slump.
It's time for Republicans to get nasty, Trump said, and combat what he called an "unbelievably negative" campaign waged by Barack Obama.
During a news conference before the ceremony, Trump called on the GOP to engage in a nastier fight with the Obama campaign, after fielding questions about anti-Romney advertising and the local vandalizing of a "Repeal Obama" billboard in Sarasota County last week.
A campaign's mistake, Trump said, is to be too politically correct and too nice.
On Rep. Akin, Trump said he didn't want to comment but then elaborated:
"The statements he made were very unfortunate. They were a mistake and he's really apologized for it. Maybe he was nervous, maybe he was under great pressure. I don't know what would cause somebody to make those statements. I wouldn't be so presumptuous to say resign, get out of the race."
On Paul Ryan, Romney's running mate:
"I think Paul Ryan is doing a great job. He leads a really exemplary life. I think his family is excellent, wonderful. He's been in the public spotlight. He's brought an energy to the party that's excellent. Ultimately he's going to save Medicare, which is really important."
On the housing market slump, which has particularly affected states like Florida:
"You have to get the banks to start loaning money again. The banks were bailed out and yet they're not loaning money to people that want to buy houses. And it's pretty said. A lot of the regulations are hurting. You need a new mindset in Washington to start off with before anything's going to change. Ultimately if we could create jobs… then it will really change and it will change fast. Because people will go out there and make money and they're going to go out and buy homes. But until that happens, nothing's going to change."
Trump did what no one has done before -- nothing new for the multi billionaire mogul, but a first for residents of Sarasota -- selling out the ballroom at the Ritz Carlton and drawing a record crowd. He braved the weather ahead of Tropical Storm Isaac and had originally planned to attend the RNC this week in Tampa. But said he thought better of it with Isaac's impending storm; Trump planned to head back to New York after his speech.
He was introduced by Sarasota County Republican Party Chairman Joe Gruters, but interrupted Gruters: "OK, Joe, come on now, let's get outta here. I have to cut short the four pages of crap you have there about me!"
Trump had the crowd roaring at times. Some notable quotes:
- "If we have four more years of Obama, we won't have a country anymore."
- "I always heard if you're really successful you can't run for office because somewhere along the way you beat the hell out of someone and left your wake. You've made enemies and they all come out to get you if you run for office."
- "The election should be about the economy and unemployment. It's not 8 percent [unemployment] -- it's probably about 16 percent and maybe even more like 21 percent. It's very, very sad. We can't come back until we build up this economy. We have unbelievable potential if we just let it loose. I believe Mitt Romney will run a great campaign and be a great president."
- "If I was wearing a rug, trust me I'd be standing here with nothing on top of my head right now- the wind was so bad when I got off my plane at the airport. This really is my hair."
Florida political notables who also spoke included Florida state Rep. Doug Holder, state Sen. Nancy Detert, real estate developer and former state Sen. Pat Neal, and Florida CFO Jeff Atwater.