Could Donald Trump unite the Republican Party and extend his Teflon shield around it? Trump argued that point last night in his rambling press conference, but makes the case more succinctly with Matt Lauer on NBC’s Today show. The more people attack him, Trump argued, the stronger his support gets. Why wouldn’t Republicans want to get behind that momentum?
If nothing else, Trump said, the lack of enthusiasm for Democrats in this cycle should be enough to make Republicans climb about the Trump bandwagon:
“There’s no spirit behind Hillary, there never will be. She’s not going to engender spirit, there’s nothing to be spirited about,” he told TODAY in a phone interview. “And what happens is, we have something, that if we can embrace it, we’re going to have a massive victory in November.”
Trump said he is drawing out first-time voters like no other candidate, energizing a party that needs it. “We have to recover as a party,” he said. “There’s tremendous positive energy in this party.”
Earlier in the race, Trump insisted that he would change his approach after it became clear that he would win the nomination — be more inclusive, welcoming, and presidential. The presser last night showed that intent at times; he offered some kind words about Paul Ryan, whom he’d previously used as a punching bag last week, and even declared that he could get along with Lindsey Graham. When pressed about attacks from others — notably Marco Rubio and Mitt Romney — Trump lashed out, but also attempted some conciliatory words as well.
Worth noting: He didn’t even bother to do that with Ted Cruz, though, which shows that Trump still isn’t quite convinced he’s vanquished Cruz. That’s why Trump is pushing now for unity ahead of the winner-take-all primaries, which start next Tuesday. It’s aimed at the voters who aren’t fully committed to Cruz, and those voters backing Rubio and John Kasich who see no other way out. Acting presidential and somewhat magnanimous now makes the transition easier ahead of the big contests, when Trump rightly senses he can wrap up the nomination with a big sweep — if he can get it.
Also worth noting: Trump wants unity on his terms — unsurprisingly for Trump, and (in all fairness) even for a generic major-party nominee, although many might couch it more graciously. Ryan got the conciliatory treatment only after Ryan called Trump, and not the other way around. In fact, this might be more of a demand for submission rather than unity … but functionally it amounts to the same thing, at least to Trump. He’s now aiming at Hillary Clinton more often in his rhetoric, and hopes to rally support around a common opponent, eclipsing the #NeverTrump movement that seeks to make him the common opponent in the GOP. The best test for Trump’s success in that strategy will be in Florida, which holds a closed primary on Tuesday, where Trump has struggled. If he wins a significant plurality over Rubio and Cruz, it may signal that GOP voters are responding to Trump’s unity argument.