DENVER — The calendar says it's general election season but it seems like Donald Trump’s stump speech has yet to make the transition.
Despite being the Republican party’s presumptive nominee, Trump has dedicated large amounts of time in his recent speeches and rallies to rehashing past primary contests and attacking fellow Republicans — even if he has (mostly) stopped hitting them by name.
Speaking here on Friday afternoon at the Western Conservative Summit, it was clear that complaints of the “rigged” primary system had yet to fully subside from Trump’s mind. The brash New Yorker lent lip service to a number of grievances he still carries from the GOP nominating contests, including: how he netted zero delegates in Colorado, how Indiana turned out to be his firewall (not Cruz or Kasich’s) and at one point even shifted away from knocking Bill Clinton’s recent meeting with Attorney General Loretta Lynch to remind the crowd that he was robbed of delegates in Louisiana.
“We do deal in a rigged system. It’s a rigged system,” Trump said matter-of-factly, as he had many times during the protracted primary battle that became focused heavily on delegate counts. "I learned so much during the primaries. I won, as an example, I won in New Orleans.” Noting his event at a packed New Orleans airport hanger before the Louisiana primary, Trump remembered thinking “How could I lose?”
He didn’t – but he did when it came to delegates.
"I won. And everything was good. Then about two weeks later they’re showing delegate counts to me. 'Sir, you did this, you did this, you did this.' And I said that’s good, what about this one that’s wrong because I won that state, right? ‘Yes, sir you did.’ But I have less delegates than the people that lost. And that’s when I realized it’s rigged, folks! It’s rigged! But I got smart fast.”
Consistently throughout the week, Trump lauded his historic primary accomplishment, reminding crowds that he earned the “most votes in the history of the Republican primary system.” On Wednesday in Bangor, Maine, for instance, Trump compared his votes earned to those of Reagan and Eisenhower – Eisenhower who “did win the second World War, in all fairness.”
The Trump team has expended considerable energy over the past few weeks normalizing and building out the bare bones operation for the general election, pushing rapid response emails to press and putting on scripted policy speeches that place the previously anti-TelePrompter Trump between two glass panels. But for every sound bite that fits a pivot to the general, Trump adds another that looks back at his past successes and slights those in his party who have yet to fall in line.
As he hammered home a trade and jobs heavy narrative this week, Trump diverted headlines when he slammed Republican rivals who have yet to honor a primary pledge to endorse him as the now-nominee. “They were really nasty to me, and I was really nasty to them,” Trump said in Denver, building on his previous idea that these unnamed “sore losers” should "never be allowed to run for public office again.”
Trump told crowds in Denver that endorsements don’t mean much to him, before reminding them of the his endorsements from names like Ben Carson, Sarah Palin, Jerry Falwell Jr., and Bobby Knight.
Trump noted that Palin, who spoke ahead of Trump at the Western Conservative Summit, was “also close with” other then-candidates but his message won her approval over the rest.