ATLANTA — Donald Trump opened his mouth again and found the door closed to him Saturday at a high-profile gathering of conservative activists.
His latest incendiary comment, about one of the Fox News moderators from Thursday's Republican presidential debate, led to a scolding by some of his rivals and the party, and condemnation by organizers of the RedState Gathering. It also cost him his top political adviser.
Saturday evening, Sunshine State News reported that political consultant Roger Stone said he was quitting as Trump's top adviser.
The Florida news service quoted an email from Stone:
"I was proud to have played a role in the launch of your presidential campaign. Your message of 'Make America Great Again' harkened back to the Reagan era. Restoring national pride and bringing jobs back to America — your initial and still underlying message — is a solid conservative message. In fact, it catapulted you instantly into a commanding lead in the race."
The email continued, however, "Unfortunately, the current controversies involving personalities and provocative media fights have reached such a high volume that it has distracted attention from your platform and overwhelmed your core message. With this current direction of the candidacy, I no longer can remain involved in your campaign."
Stone, who lives in Fort Lauderdale, told Sunshine State News Trump's campaign was "imploding."
Trump announced that he had fired Stone, but Politico reported that Stone's friends had said earlier in the day that Stone was quitting. Stone also disputed Trump's claim in a tweet:
The billionaire businessman had lashed out against Fox News' Megyn Kelly for her questions during the campaign's first debate. She had asked the candidate about his use of derogatory language toward women and whether it reflected the "temperament of a man we should elect as president."
Referring to Kelly's questions, Trump told CNN in an interview late Friday, "There was blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever."
Soon after the interview aired, RedState's Erick Erickson booted Trump from the event's Saturday lineup.
"I just don't want someone on stage who gets a hostile question from a lady and his first inclination is to imply it was hormonal. It just was wrong," Erickson wrote on the RedState website.
He said that "while Mr. Trump resonates with a lot of people with his bluntness, including me to a degree, there are just real lines of decency a person running for president should not cross."
Trump's campaign was incensed — and unbowed.
"This is just another example of weakness through being politically correct. For all of the people who were looking forward to Mr. Trump coming, we will miss you. Blame Erick Erickson, your weak and pathetic leader," according to a campaign statement.
Trump tweeted his response:
.@redstate I miss you all, and thanks for all of your support. Political correctness is killing our country. "weakness."
In a follow-up statement Saturday morning, Trump's camp intensified the personal attack against Erickson, slammed Kelly again and contended that the candidate's precise words on CNN were "blood was coming out of her eyes and whatever."
"Mr. Trump made Megyn Kelly look really bad—she was a mess with her anger and totally caught off guard. Mr. Trump said 'blood was coming out of her eyes and whatever' meaning nose, but wanted to move on to more important topics. Only a deviant would think anything else,'' the statement read.
That description deviated from the telephone interview that aired.
The campaign claimed that the 900 activists who had wanted to hear from Trump on Saturday evening were contacting the campaign to complain about Erickson and others who "are trying to be so politically correct. To them, Mr. Trump said, 'We will catch you at another time soon.'"
Two of Trump's rivals, former technology executive Carly Fiorina and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, said there was no excuse for Trump's words about Kelly. They said they stood with the journalist.
An exasperated Mike Huckabee had enough of the seemingly endless Trump questions. "I'm running for president. I'm not running for social media critic of somebody else who's running for president," the former Arkansas governor said.
The Republican National Committee, treading carefully about the current front-runner for the 2016 nomination, called on Trump to "immediately clarify" his comment on Kelly and said it would "highly inappropriate" if Trump stood by his remarks.
Trump needs "to understand that he is seeking the presidency of the United States now and that words do matter," RNC spokesman Sean Spicer told NBC's Today show on Saturday.
"I'm hoping that Mr. Trump, because he does speak off the cuff, because he doesn't ascribe to political correctness, was speaking in a way that wasn't fully thought out," Spicer said.
Trump tried to explain it away with a tweet on Saturday:
Re Megyn Kelly quote: "you could see there was blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever" (NOSE). Just got on w/thought— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 8, 2015
Re Megyn Kelly quote: "you could see there was blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever" (NOSE). Just got on w/thought
Trump's absence from Saturday's RedState Gathering program threatened to overshadow appearances by a number of his rivals, including former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.
If there was anything close to a consensus among activists at the event, it was that they still wanted to hear what Trump had to say.
"Personally, we need to make up our own minds if someone is stupid," said Jack Staver, a business consultant from Woodstock, Ga. "If someone is going to fall on their face, let them do it for everyone to see. Maybe it will help us make up our minds in a primary like this."
Connie Thomas, executive of a health care consultancy, said Trump went "too far" in the CNN interview. But, she added, "If he did something wrong, he should be allowed to come and answer for it in person."
Not wanting to give him that chance was Dulcy Forte, 68, of Austin, Texas, already turned off by Trump's suggestion that he might not support the eventual GOP nominee — if it's not him.
"I always thought Donald Trump was a little crude, but, more importantly, he's not a good Republican," Forte said.
Trump had largely dismissed Kelly's question at the debate, but on Friday he went directly after her.
Before dawn, he had retweeted a post calling Kelly a "bimbo."
"She's not very tough and not very sharp," Trump said during a phone interview on CNN. "I don't respect her as a journalist."
In a series of interviews earlier Friday on network television, the billionaire businessman questioned whether he had actually used the words as Kelly had alleged during the debate.
"You know, some of the statements she made about the women, I don't recognize those words whatsoever," Trump said on ABC's Good Morning America. ''We're going to take a very serious look at it."
Trump has a long history of lobbing insults at those he feels have treated him unfairly, and advises those who buy his books to do the same.
"For many years I've said that if someone screws you, screw them back," he wrote in Trump: How to Get Rich. ''When somebody hurts you, just go after them as viciously and as violently as you can."
When doing so, he has repeatedly targeted women and their physical appearance.
"Rosie O'Donnell's disgusting, I mean both inside and out. You take a look at her, she's a slob. She talks like a truck driver," he said in 2006 during an interview with Entertainment Tonight. ''I'd look her right in that fat, ugly face of hers, I'd say, 'Rosie, you're fired'" from her television show, The View.
During the debate, Trump acknowledged making such comments — but only about O'Donnell. When Kelly said Trump's comments had gone beyond O'Donnell and asked about his use of such insults on Twitter, Trump replied that he didn't "have time for total political correctness."
A review of Trump's writings, televised interviews and Twitter feed show he has long used harsh language to describe women — and occasionally men.
In tweets sent last year, Trump called Huffington Post editor Arianna Huffington "a dog who wrongfully comments on me" and said she is "ugly both inside and out!"
In 2012, Trump wrote on Twitter of singer Bette Midler: "But whenever she sees me, she kisses my ass. She's disgusting."
Trump has also said the same of men. "Little @MacMiller, I'm now going to teach you a big boy lesson about lawsuits and finance. You ungrateful dog!" he tweeted in 2013 at a rapper who wrote a song titled "Donald Trump."
And to former U.S. Rep. Barney Frank in 2011: "Barney Frank looked disgusting — nipples protruding — in his blue shirt before Congress. Very very disrespectful."
During the debate, Kelly also referenced a boardroom scene from Trump's NBC's realty show, Celebrity Apprentice, in which Trump was told by one contestant that a female teammate had gotten down on her knees to beg.
"That must be a pretty picture, you dropping to your knees," Trump said in response.
In the book, Trump declared that, "All the women on The Apprentice flirted with me — consciously or unconsciously. That's to be expected."
And he had this to say about women's victories on the show: "It's certainly not groundbreaking news that the early victories by the women on The Apprentice were, to a very large extent, dependent on their sex appeal."
On some occasions Trump appears to have recognized he's gone too far. In April, he retweeted, then deleted, a tweet that read, "If Hillary Clinton can't satisfy her husband what makes her think she can satisfy America?"