Trump mixes business and politics with opening of new hotel

By CNN
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Donald Trump

Donald Trump stepped off the campaign trail Wednesday to promote his new hotel here, less than two weeks from Election Day and trailing in the polls.

But the Republican nominee wasn't exactly taking time off the campaign trail. Instead, he used his private business to prop up his campaign.

Taking the podium to tout his new hotel as "one of the great hotels of the world," the billionaire, who has touted his business success as a key qualification for assuming the presidency, quickly turned the corporate-themed ribbon-cutting into a campaign event, albeit far from any of the battleground states he needs to win to clinch the presidency.

"Today is a metaphor for what we can accomplish for this country," Trump said Wednesday in one of the hotel's ballrooms where six chandeliers hanged from the ceiling.

 He immediately sought to dispel the criticism that he is spending time promoting his business rather than campaigning for votes in the crucial final stretch, saying that "as soon as we're finished cutting the ribbon," he was taking off for several key swing states.

And after touting the property as "the most coveted piece of real estate in Washington," Trump quickly sought to meld his hotel promotion with his campaign message.

 He praised the construction workers and electricians as "really the important ones" and said the hotel opening shows how he can "get things done" at a time when "just about everything our government touches is broken or they break it."

He promised to bring his "under budget and ahead of schedule" mantra to the federal government should he be elected. And he took jabs at Obamacare, calling it "in free fall."

But Trump used the hotel as more than just a stand-in for how he would govern as he appeared to tie the successful completion of his hotel project to the uphill battle his campaign faces as he urged voters to embrace his outsider campaign.

"There is nothing we cannot accomplish. The United States is great. It's great. It's great. Its people are great. There is no task or project too great," Trump said. "Don't let anyone tell you it can't be done."

"We have to choose the most optimistic path. We have to choose to believe not our politicians that in many cases truly don't know what they're doing but to believe in ourselves and in our country," said the Republican nominee, who has faced unrelenting attacks from critics who have warned about the dangers of a Trump presidency.

Even as hotel staff handed press passes adorned with the Trump's hotel company logo, the signs that the ribbon-cutting was more than just a corporate event were clear.

Several campaign staffers -- among them his national finance chairman, finance chief operating officer and campaign advance staffers -- milled alongside Trump surrogates and advisers, such as former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama.

 The WiFi password was "trump2016," and as a throng of political reporters awaited Trump's arrival, the campaign's director of advance checked the microphone at the podium.

An exterior view of the entrance to the new Trump International Hotel at the old post office on October 26, 2016 in Washington, D.C.

The Trump campaign did not respond to multiple requests for comment about whether the campaign had paid for the costs of the event, as would be required under campaign finance law.

But with less than two weeks until Election Day, some have questioned Trump's decision to attend a business event in Washington instead of chasing votes in one of the crucial swing states where he is trailing in the polls.

Clinton herself jabbed Trump over the stop, saying at a campaign stop in Florida that he was "taking time off the campaign trail."

Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway addressed that criticism Wednesday morning, arguing that the "pit stop" would also serve to highlight the business successes Trump says qualify him to be president.

"It shows Americans the tangible accomplishments of Donald Trump. He's somebody who builds things. He's somebody who fixes things," Conway said on NBC's "Today" show. "I think you'll see today the tangible accomplishments of Donald Trump."

Conway also argued the event would help draw a contrast with Hillary Clinton, whom Trump has increasingly labeled as a "corrupt" Washington insider.

"I mean, Hillary Clinton went from being 'dead broke' to being a quarter of a billionaire, how'd she do that? Did she bring a company public? Did she build great hotels? Did she hit the Powerball? None of the above. She sold access," Conway alleged.

Trump's morning event in Washington also comes as the Republican nominee is taking on a more aggressive campaign schedule than his Democratic rival, swinging through more than a half-dozen cities throughout the key swing state of Florida in the last three days. His campaign schedule will take him to two rallies in North Carolina later Wednesday and three Ohio cities on Thursday.

Responding to a question asked by CNN's Dana Bash after the ceremony, Trump said it was "very insulting" for Wednesday's event to be characterized as a break from campaigning.

"I'm going to North Carolina right now and then to Florida then up to New Hampshire," Trump told Bash. "For you to ask me that question is actually very insulting, because Hillary Clinton does one stop and then goes home and sleeps."