From a battleship on Debate Eve, Donald Trump mostly holsters his guns

But the words were less important than the image the media horde was meant to capture: The candidate speaking below three 16-inch guns on the deck of a World War II-era battleship, the U.S.S. Iowa.

There was plenty of the usual Trump bravado for about 800 supporters who paid a minimum of $100 for tickets supporting the conservative nonprofit Veterans for a Strong America, which offered Trump its endorsement.

The closest he came to challenging his fellow Republicans was a group shot at their dealmaking acumen.

It appears Trump’s Republican foes are spoiling for a fight ahead of Wednesday’s CNN debate. Carly Fiorina is hitting back on Trump’s comments about “that face.” Jeb Bush’s “Right to Rise” Super PAC is taking him on, as is the fiscally conservative Wall Street-backed Club For Growth, which announced a $1 million Iowa television ad campaign against the billionaire on Tuesday.

But Trump defied expectations by not launching a counteroffensive from the battleship. It was an abbreviated 13-minute performance that did not have the promised hefty foreign policy roll-out. Trump told the crowd: “we’re going to come out with some plans in a very short time.”

Until then, Trump is simply vowing to build up America’s military “so big and so strong and so great. And it will be so powerful that I don’t think we’re ever going to have to use it. Nobody’s going to mess with us.”

He once again denounced the Iran nuclear deal as “one of the weakest contracts of any kind,” proclaiming that John Kerry might have surpassed Hillary Clinton as, in Trump’s mind, “the worst secretary of state in the history of this country.”

Trump drew on Richard Nixon’s famous description of the electorate.

Such descriptions of illegal immigrants have inspired protesters, and more than 100 amassed at a gate next to the battleship to boo Trump as he made his remarks. He ignored them from the stage, but after shaking hands and signing “Make America Great Again” hats, Trump disembarked. He waved several times and gave the thumbs-up to protesters who booed and chanted “Go Home Trump.”

He hopped into the front seat of a black SUV and sped off, but not back to Trump Tower. Home will have to wait until after Wednesday’s debate.

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