TURNBERRY, Scotland — Arriving here Friday for his first trip abroad as the likely Republican presidential nominee, Donald Trump did not seem to understand the gravity of the United Kingdom’s decision to leave the European Union.
As the value of the pound collapsed in the morning and stock markets around the globe plummeted, Trump attended a surreal ribbon-cutting at his luxury golf resort in this seacoast village and barely mentioned the global news until reporters pressed him to do so.
For a candidate who has struggled to show that his grasp of foreign policy matches that of former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, the likely Democratic nominee, Trump could have used the moment to prove his critics wrong. Instead, he staged a widely broadcast infomercial for his newest luxury property, Trump Turnberry.
He landed by helicopter, sporting a white cap bearing his presidential campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again.” The theme was tweaked on red caps worn by resort staffers: “Make Turnberry Great Again.” At a news conference later, Trump stood in front of a bagpiper and continued to speak after a prankster threw several dozen red golf balls bearing swastikas onto the grass.
As reporters pressed him on the referendum to leave the E.U. known as Brexit, Trump declared the vote “fantastic” and “great” because it reflected the anger of voters — even though Scots voted overwhelmingly to remain. He said that “the result might have been different” if President Obama had not urged Britain to remain in the E.U. And he suggested that a falling pound could benefit both the United Kingdom and his property here.
“I think it’s a great thing that happened,” Trump told reporters shortly after his helicopter landed. “People are angry, all over the world. People, they’re angry.”
He added later, “When the pound goes down, more people are coming to Turnberry, frankly. For traveling and for other things, I think it very well could turn out to be a positive.”
Trump also suggested that running a golf course was comparable to running a nation. “You’ll be amazed how similar it is,” he told reporters. “It’s a place that has to be fixed.”
Trump’s two-day visit to Scotland was scheduled — with much fanfare — strictly as a business trip. That could have insulated him from the kind of scrutiny that attended past gaffe-riddled visits abroad by presidential candidates such as GOP nominee Mitt Romney and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R).
Instead, strategists said, Trump’s awkward and tone-deaf response to the Brexit vote left him more vulnerable to criticism from Clinton.
“This is an opportunity to showcase yourself as a world leader and as a potential commander in chief,” said Kevin Madden, a veteran GOP operative who advised the 2012 GOP nominee, Romney. “So when the images being seen back home are at a golf course, that’s a missed opportunity.”
Clinton’s chief policy adviser, Jake Sullivan, called Trump’s Scottish news conference a “spectacle” that should worry voters. He said Trump “put his golf course interest ahead” of U.S. interests and failed to understand that American households could be hurt by the Brexit vote.
“Donald Trump has consistently shown disregard for our friends and allies across the world and talked about a weaker, less confident America,” Sullivan said. “Donald Trump proves again he is temperamentally unfit for the job.”
When asked if he was traveling with his foreign policy advisers or consulting them, Trump said he had been in contact with them but “there’s nothing to talk about.”
In answering questions, Trump repeatedly pressed the point that there were similarities between the Brexit vote and his own unexpected rise in the U.S. presidential race.
“I really do see a parallel between what’s happening in the United States and what’s happening here,” Trump told reporters. “You just have to embrace it; it’s the will of the people.”
Outside the event, a couple of hundred protesters and a handful of supporters gathered along the road in front of Turnberry. The protesters chanted slogans that included “Trump go home!” and “Say it loud, say it clear, refugees are welcome here!” An organizer on a megaphone belted out: “Trump always plays the racist card at all times!”
While many of the protests at Trump’s political rallies in the United States have focused on his controversial comments on illegal immigrants from Mexico and Muslims, the protesters here called for compassion for refugees, who have been pouring into Europe from Syria and other war-torn countries.
Robbie Easton, 29, traveled on a bus from Glasgow to Turnberry so that he could challenge Trump’s “poisonous rhetoric.”
“Scapegoating whole religions of people, scapegoating whole populations of people fleeing war zones and destitute people, families drowning in the Mediterranean and referring to these people as cockroaches?” asked Easton, a student who voted Thursday for Britain to remain in the E.U. “I see this getting worse throughout the world. . . . It’s really quite frightening.”
Just as Trump started to speak at the news conference, he was interrupted by a man with unruly hair wearing a Turnberry sweater who made an announcement. Comedian Simon Brodkin — who often plays a character called Lee Nelson — said he forgot to pass out a new series of golf balls to guests and tossed out the red balls featuring swastikas.
“Get him out,” Trump said as security surrounded Brodkin and led him away.
Trump proceeded with the news conference, still surrounded by the golf balls.
In addition to the protesters, there was a handful of Trump supporters and curiosity-seekers who gathered to watch Trump’s helicopter land on the lawn.
Mike Ross, 48, wore a T-shirt featuring Trump’s face with the message: “Donald Trump, Making Ayrshire Great Again,” referring to the Scottish region where Trump opened his golf course and hotel. Ross carried a sign with the same image and slogan.
“I like him. I like the way he’s changing politics and the stuffy political correctness,” Ross said. “He’s breaking all of the protocols. The leave vote was part of that.
“People are fed up.”
As Ross talked with a reporter, a protester walked by and shouted: “Are you a racist as well, man?”
In addition to Turnberry, Trump is expected to visit a golf resort he owns near Aberdeen on the eastern coast. Scotland is the birthplace of his mother, who immigrated to New York as a teenager.
DelReal reported from Washington. Anne Gearan in Washington contributed to this report.