SPARKS, Nev. (AP) — Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump emerged Thursday from a debate in which he appeared to take a back seat to his rivals by lashing out at the media as he continues to adjust to a race in which he is no longer the undisputed front-runner.
Trump told more than 3,000 supporters at a rally at the Nugget hotel-casino in Sparks, Nevada, that he was pleased with his lower-key performance during the third GOP debate in Boulder, Colorado, even if the "crooked people in the press" won't give him credit.
"Last night, all of the polls — every single one of 'em — said I won," Trump bragged, referring to online questionnaires taken during and after the debate.
The "polls" Trump referred to are not scientific surveys of a representative sample of Americans, but reader polls of a self-selected group of respondents who often have opinions very different from those of the general public.
Trump's performance Wednesday evening was a departure from the first two Republican debates. The billionaire businessman and real estate developer took a less dominating role, allowing rivals like Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio to take the spotlight.
Speaking Thursday afternoon, Trump took credit for predicting that tension between Rubio and his former mentor, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, would spill out into the open, but was otherwise largely complimentary of his rivals.
He said he thought Cruz and Rubio had done well in the face of tough questions and thanked former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee for defending him when asked whether he thought Trump had the moral authority to be president.
"I really appreciated Mike Huckabee for, you know, sticking up for me," Trump said. "He's a good man."
He also noted how well he and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson have been getting along, laughing and winking at each other on stage, despite the fact that Carson has surpassed Trump's lead in some polls.
Trump's harshest words were reserved for the media, drawing cheers and applause.
Trump said he'd come to expect ill treatment from a biased press and therefore wasn't as angry as some of the other candidates or the Republican National Committee about CNBC's handling of the debate.
"I've become immune to it," he said. "Honestly, I've seen things that are so bad with the press."
He took particular issue with having been described as begging Iowa voters for support during a rally earlier this week.
"The last thing I am is a beggar, OK?" he said. "It's just not me."
Audience member Paul Munding, a retired veteran who recently moved to Reno from San Jose, California, said he first thought Trump's candidacy was a "waste of time" but had since come around.
"I think the more people hear him, they start to realize what he is saying makes sense," he said.
Colvin reported from in Washington.