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Laffey blasts Trump over CNN town hall

The former Cranston mayor said, “President Trump embarrassed himself and our party and our nation.” Laffey said he has been living in New Hampshire and is trying to break through in the presidential primary, hoping to have a “Herman Cain moment.”

Former Cranston mayor Steve Laffey, a Republican candidate for president.Handout

PROVIDENCE — While most Republican presidential candidates are reluctant to criticize Trump, former Cranston mayor Steve Laffey has been stepping up his criticism in his long-shot campaign.

Laffey, who entered the presidential race in February, issued a statement this week after writer E. Jean Carroll filed an amended lawsuit against Trump for making scathing remarks about her at a CNN town hall a day after the former president lost a $5 million lawsuit to her.

“After over a week of relative silence against President Trump’s town hall disaster, something must be said,” Laffey said. “It was truly an embarrassment on all fronts. President Trump helped to further destroy my party in one night. Point by point, President Trump embarrassed himself and our party and our nation.”

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Laffey also criticized the audience for laughing when Trump mocked Carroll during the CNN event at Saint Anselm College in New Hampshire.

“The audience’s behavior was abysmal,” he said. “Was a Catholic college OK with an audience they provided, laughing about a sexual assault conviction? It seems so.”

Actually, Saint Anselm issued a statement after the CNN town hall, saying it found Trump’s remarks about the civil trial involving Carroll “deeply” disturbing.

“Equally disturbing was the audience’s reaction, nearly all of whom were not members of the Saint Anselm community, with laughter,” Saint Anselm said. “The college does not tolerate sexual misconduct of any kind, including sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence, stalking and sexual harassment.”

Laffey called on all presidential candidates to denounce Trump’s behavior at the CNN event.

But other GOP candidates have been hesitant to lash out at the former president, who holds commanding leads in recent polling. A recent Harvard CAPS/Harris poll found that in a hypothetical nine-way Republican presidential primary, Trump gets 58 percent while Florida Governor Ron DeSantis receives 16 percent. Vivek Ramaswamy, Mike Pence, and Nikki Haley each receive 4 percent.

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Laffey, who did not even register in that poll, said other GOP candidates are afraid of alienating Trump’s supporters. “It’s everyone trying to be the mini-Trump,” he said, “and I’m not that.”

For example, he described DeSantis, who filed paperwork to run for president on Wednesday, as “the biggest of the mini-Trumps,” and he said Senator Tim Scott, a South Carolina Republican who entered the race on Friday, “a mini-Trump in many ways.”

Laffey said he has never voted for Trump. He said that in the 2016 presidential election, he voted for Larry Kotlikoff, the Boston University economics professor who’s now serving as his campaign’s chief economic adviser. And in the 2020 presidential race, Laffey wrote in his own name.

The former mayor, who lost a 2006 Republican primary challenge to then-US Senator Lincoln D. Chafee, left Rhode Island for Colorado in 2010. But he said he has been living in New Hampshire, trying to break through in the presidential primary by focusing on issues such as Social Security and the Federal Reserve. “I’m the only one in that lane,” he said.

Laffey said he is hoping to have a “Herman Cain moment,” similar to the breakthrough that Caine had in the 2012 after his “9-9-9 tax plan” and debate performances made him a serious contender for the Republican nomination. “I’m 61 years old. I have six kids, and mine is the only serious candidacy,” he said. “If it doesn’t work and I don’t break through, so be it.”

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This week, Laffey said he was back in Rhode Island because his daughter Sarah Grace — who had been diagnosed with stage-four cancer — graduated May 20 with a master’s degree in hospitality management from Boston University and is getting married on June 3 in South Kingstown.


Edward Fitzpatrick can be reached at edward.fitzpatrick@globe.com. Follow him @FitzProv.