CLEVELAND, Ohio — Long before they met on the debate stage here, Donald Trump was supporting Sen. Rand Paul’s overseas eye surgery missions.
While Trump hasn’t given directly to Paul’s political action committees, he has supported Paul’s charity work as an ophthalmologist. Last summer, Paul took a trip to Salama, Guatemala. This reporter was there, with representatives from NBC’s Meet The Press, the Washington Post, and National Review, as Dr. Paul performed charity cataract surgeries. Paul’s trip was with the University of Utah’s Moran Eye Center, and a substantial portion of the trip was paid for by none other than Trump himself.
“Paul raised tens of thousands of dollars through various donors, including real estate magnate Donald Trump, to help cover the Moran Eye Center’s trip costs,” this reporter wrote from Antigua, Guatemala, last August right before traveling to Salama up in the mountains with Paul’s team.
On the floor of the spin room after the debate—after initial refusal to answer from Paul and his team—Paul’s communications director confirmed to Breitbart News that the exact dollar amount of Trump’s donation so Paul could do the Guatemala charity surgery was $10,000. Sergio Gor, Paul’s spokesman, also confirmed that Paul did solicit the donation from Trump for the Moran Eye Center at the University of Utah.
“It wasn’t to Rand Paul foundation, it wasn’t to Rand Paul, it wasn’t to any of his victory committees—it was directly to University of Utah,” Gor said.
“Well, of course,” Gor confirmed when asked whether Paul helped solicit the donation. “It’s not a secret. And he [Paul] admires him [Trump] for it. But it has nothing to do with his political positions. His charity giving was honorable. No one questions that. In fact, it’s been under reported.”
A high-profile moment in the debate here came right off the bat when Sen. Paul (R-KY) criticized GOP frontrunner Trump for refusing to automatically pledge to endorse whoever the GOP nominee is and refusing to say he won’t run as a third party candidate.
“Gentlemen, we know how much you love hand-raising questions. So we promise, this is the only one tonight: the only one. Is there anyone on stage, and can I see hands, who is unwilling tonight to pledge your support to the eventual nominee of the Republican party and pledge to not run an independent campaign against that person. Again, we’re looking for you to raise your hand now — raise your hand now if you won’t make that pledge tonight,” Fox’s Bret Baier opened the debate by asking.
Only Trump raised his hand.
“Mr. Trump to be clear, you’re standing on a Republican primary debate stage,” Baier asked him.
“I fully understand,” Trump replied.
“The place where the RNC will give the nominee the nod,” Baier continued.
“I fully understand,” Trump said again.
“And that experts say an independent run would almost certainly hand the race over to Democrats and likely another Clinton,” Baier followed up. “You can’t say tonight that you can make that pledge?”
“I cannot say. I have to respect the person that, if it’s not me, the person that wins, if I do win, and I’m leading by quite a bit, that’s what I want to do,” Trump explained. “I can totally make that pledge. If I’m the nominee, I will pledge I will not run as an independent. But — and I am discussing it with everybody, but I’m, you know, talking about a lot of leverage. We want to win, and we will win. But I want to win as the Republican. I want to run as the Republican nominee.”
At that point, Paul interjected.
“This is what’s wrong!” Paul said.
“I mean, this is what’s wrong. He buys and sells politicians of all stripes, he’s already—“ Paul said before Baier cut across him.
“Hey, look, look! He’s already hedging his bet on the Clintons, OK?” Paul continued. “So if he doesn’t run as a Republican, maybe he supports Clinton, or maybe he runs as an independent but I’d say that he’s already hedging his bets because he’s used to buying politicians.”
“Well, I’ve given him plenty of money,” Trump joked of Paul before Baier cut that part of the debate off and moved on.
Paul has highlighted the trip to Guatemala at several points throughout his presidential campaign, including in his campaign launch in Louisville, Kentucky, earlier this year.
He has not relented in his criticism of Trump in recent days since the debate. On Monday evening he held a press call with reporters attacking Trump’s record. And over the weekend in South Carolina, Paul hammered away at Trump.
“I can’t imagine Donald Trump even knowing what a tea party is,” Paul said, according to the Washington Post. “Where is our sense? Where is our common sense? This is a guy who was pro-choice before he was pro-life. This is a guy who was liberal before he was conservative. This is a guy who was a Democrat before he was a Republican before he was a Democrat before was an independent before was a Republican again.”
Paul is set to go to Haiti this coming weekend for a several day trip to perform charity surgeries.