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Instead Of Debating, Trump Hosts His Own Event For Veterans

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: This is Don Gonyea. Satellite trucks lined the street outside the small auditorium at Drake University where Donald Trump's alternate programming for the night was taking place.


DONALD TRUMP: That's so nice. Thank you, thank you, man. That is a as a vet. There's a vet. We love our vets.

GONYEA: Officially, it was an event to raise money for veterans groups. Trump said in just 24 hours, they raised more than $5 million. But the night wasn't all about veterans. Right off the bat, Trump spoke of the debate he was skipping


TRUMP: You have to stick up for your rights. When you're treated badly, you have to stick up for your rights.

GONYEA: Trump took the stage 15 minutes after the debate began, clearly looking to steal audience away from Fox News. It was his feud with one of the moderators, Megyn Kelly, that caused him to skip that event and schedule his own.


TRUMP: You look at all the cameras - it's like the Academy Awards. This is like the Academy Awards.

GONYEA: And he had a couple special guests in the audience - presidential candidates Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee, who dropped by after participating in the so-called undercard debate earlier in the evening. Each is struggling to get attention in a race dominated by Trump, so for them it was a rare moment in a big spotlight. Here's Santorum.


RICK SANTORUM: I'll stand a little bit over here so I'm not photographed with the Trump sign.

GONYEA: Santorum joked that he's supporting a different candidate, but he's happy to work with Trump to help veterans. Huckabee added that the sacrifices of veterans make free elections possible. Trump then introduced a veteran of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, John Wayne Walding, who lost a leg in combat and was awarded the Purple Heart. He spoke of the insecurity he felt adjusting to life back home but also of the pride he feels when someone tells him thank you.


JOHN WAYNE WALDING: So when I hear those two words, and somebody says thank you, I say, you're worth it because you are worth fighting for, all right. God bless you.

GONYEA: Trump wrapped up the evening with a low-key version of his standard stump speech, and there was one more dig at what was happening across town. Isn't this better than that debate, he said. Don Gonyea, NPR News, Des Moines. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.