In first post-Iowa rally, Donald Trump defends his second-place finish

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks with members of the media during a news conference Tuesday in Milford, New Hampshire.
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks with members of the media during a news conference Tuesday in Milford, New Hampshire. –Matt Rourke / AP

Donald Trump wants to Make Second Place Great Again.

Or at least “very good.’’

That’s what he told reporters Tuesday night in his first public appearance following his loss to Ted Cruz in Iowa.

Speaking at a press conference before a rally in Milford, New Hampshire, Trump said he isn’t worried about his second-place finish damaging his brand of being a “winner.’’ Instead, he faulted outside expectations that were just too far to reach.

“What happened is we had 17 candidates and I was expected to come in anywhere, maybe like 10, 11, 12, 13,’’ he said of the expectations when he entered the race.

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Despite 13 straight polls showing Trump leading in Iowa before Monday’s caucuses, he placed second with 24.3 percent of the vote — in between Cruz with 27.6 percent and Marco Rubio with 23.1 percent. In a familiar tactic, Trump blamed the sense of disappointment on the media.

“Some of the press did fantastically well. Some of the press, I think, doesn’t want to give me credit. I guess what did happen was one poll came out that said I’m four or five points ahead and maybe it built up false expectations for some people,’’ said Trump, who regularly begins rallies by touting his poll numbers.

During Tuesday’s rally, Trump also derided the media for playing up Rubio’s performance.

“How come the person who comes in third on many of the networks is being covered like it one of the great victories in the history of politics in this country?,’’ he asked the crowd at the Hampton Hills Athletic Club.

On his Twitter account Tuesday morning, Trump broke his post-loss silence by accrediting the loss in Iowa to the media’s “unfair treatment’’ of his “long-shot campaign.’’

Trump said he didn’t devote tremendous time or money to Iowa.

“In fact, I guess in terms of money per vote I’m about at the bottom,’’ he said referencing a Washington Post article that found his campaign spent less money per vote received in Iowa than any other Republican candidate.

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However, the billionaire real estate mogul did benefit from more free exposure from the same media he despises than any other candidate. According to an analysis of TV coverage last year, Trump at times took up to 50 percent of all coverage of Republican candidates.

In his rally, Trump took credit for the record turnout for Iowa’s caucuses. Republicans counted more than 180,000 participants, according to The Des Moines Register, beating the 2012 record of 121,503 by about 60,000.

“I’m not gonna say it was me,’’ Trump said Tuesday night. “But believe me, it was me.’’

Trump said he wasn’t changing his strategy going into New Hampshire and was prepared to spend “unlimited’’ amounts of his personal wealth to compete with the likes of Cruz and Rubio.

He also hinted at some discontent with his campaign’s reliance on self-funding. His year-end Federal Election Commission filing showed that Trump self-funded roughly 66 percent of his campaign’s total contributions.

“I just don’t think it’s appreciated by the voters,’’ he said, adding that he doesn’t think people think about it when they cast their ballots.

Trump finished the pre-rally conference by toning down his front-running style of campaigning, downplaying expectations in the Granite State.

“I’d love to finish first,’’ he said, “but again it would still not be horrible because you’re competing against a lot of very talented people that are good politicians all their lives. I’ve been a politician for six months.’’

New Hampshire polls have shown Trump leading by double digits since he entered the race in July.

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“It wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world,’’ he said of a second-place finish in the state. “I can think of worse things.’’

“But I’d like to finish first,’’ he added. “I think we will finish first.’’

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