SHARONVILLE — Donald Trump deems Saddam Hussein worthy of mention because he killed terrorists “at a very high level," the presumptive GOP nominee told The Enquirer in an interview Wednesday evening.
He emphasized that Hussein was "a very bad guy," a message he re-emphasized in his rally speech later. But he said he's highlighting the late Iraqi dictator while on the campaign trail because of one thing.
"Saddam Hussein killed terrorists, OK?" Trump said. "That was something that was a good thing as far as we’re concerned, not a bad thing."
Trump had drawn criticism Tuesday night for praising Hussein. While he said the dictator was "a really bad guy," Trump also told supporters in Raleigh, North Carolina, "but you know what he did well? He killed terrorists. He did that so good ... They didn't read them the rights, they didn't talk. They were a terrorist – it was over."
In his interview with The Enquirer, he rejected the characterization of his Hussein statements as praise.
“That’s not praising Saddam Hussein. I would say maybe it’s the opposite," he said. "But when it comes to terrorism, I said he did a good job because he killed terrorists.”
The United States was long at odds with Hussein. The government long branded Hussein's Iraq as a state sponsor of terrorism, including chemical weapon attacks on the Kurds, scud missile strikes against Israel and a plot to assassinate former President George H.W. Bush, who authorized the first invasion of Iraq in 1991.
The presidential candidate visited Southwest Ohio Wednesday for the first time since his unsuccessful primary bid in the Buckeye State, bringing with him former U.S. House Speaker and presidential candidate Newt Gingrich, a possible vice presidential pick.
During his speech, he pivoted from an attack on Clinton to defend his comments about Hussein and his campaign's use of an apparent Star of David in a graphic criticizing Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton as corrupt.
That sort of approach, including the Hussein remarks Tuesday, has Republicans wringing their hands over missed opportunities to attack Clinton effectively. But regarding his response to the news Clinton won't face indictment for mishandling classified emails, Trump told The Enquirer: "I think I’ve given the strongest response to her by anybody by far. It wasn’t even close." On Tuesday, Trump had tweeted the FBI's decision showed the system is "rigged."
Trump hopes to win over this quintessential swing state by November. After all, no Republican has made it to the White House without winning Ohio. Trump and Clinton were tied in the most recent public poll in Ohio.