Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump launched a scathing attack against US immigration and trade policies in a series of speeches that oscillated from accusing Mexico of deliberately sending criminals across the border, to professing respect for the Latin American nation's government and love for its people.
Speaking to a gathering of Libertarians yesterday in Las Vegas before headlining an event in Phoenix, Trump repeated his charge that Mexico was sending violent offenders to the US to harm Americans and that US officials were being "dumb" in dealing with immigrants in the country illegally.
"These people wreak havoc on our population," he told a few thousand people attending the Libertarian gathering FreedomFest inside a Planet Hollywood ballroom on the Las Vegas Strip.
In the 4,200-capacity Phoenix convention centre packed with flag-waving supporters, Trump took a different view for a moment and said: "I love the Mexican people. I love 'em. Many, many people from Mexico are legal. They came in the old-fashioned way. Legally."
He quickly returned to the sharp tone that has brought him scorn as well as praise. "I respect Mexico greatly as a country. But the problem we have is their leaders are much sharper than ours, and they're killing us at the border and they're killing us on trade."
His speeches in both venues were long on insults aimed at critics and short on solutions to the problems he cited. When he called for a wall along the US-Mexico border, the audience in Las Vegas groaned.
In a break from the immigration rhetoric that has garnered him condemnation and praise, Trump asserted that he would have more positive results in dealing with China and Russia if he were president and said he could be pals with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Asked by an audience member in Las Vegas about US-Russia relations, Trump said the problem is that Putin doesn't respect Obama.
"I think we would get along very, very well," he said. Trump has turned to victims of crime to bolster his argument that immigrants in the US illegally have killed and raped. In Las Vegas and Phoenix, he brought on stage Jamiel Shaw Sr, a Southern California man whose 17-year-old son was shot and killed in 2008 by a man in the country illegally.
Shaw vividly described how his son was shot in the head, stomach and hands while trying to block his face and how he heard the gunshots as he talked to his son on the phone.