Topping off a chaotic day of Republican infighting that stemmed from Trump’s racially-charged comments about Trump University Judge Curiel, Donald Trump did what his advisers said he was capable of all along: he acted presidential.
At least, for about fifteen minutes on the final night of the primaries.
Reading from TelePrompters (his fifth time using them, and first on election night), Trump’s speech to a room of supporters and press sounded more like an assurance to a concerned party establishment than his typical election night celebration. “I understand the responsibility of carrying the mantle,” Trump said, promising to “never let you down” and to “make you proud of your party and our movement.”
Gone from his speech was the classic name-calling taunting of his rivals and absent was mention of Trump’s well-known wall along the Southern border. Instead, his immigration argument was significantly softened, founded in concern for workers and wages and how we can protect them, as well as an emotional appeal to the families of “victims of illegal immigration.”
Continuing to hammer home his “America first” theme, Trump applied it to immigration, pitching one of his most controversial policy plans through the new lens of “jobs, wages and security of American workers.”
"Whether first or tenth generation. No matter who you are, we're going to protect your job,” Trump said. "Because, let me tell you, our jobs are being stripped from our country like we're babies. The beauty of America first is that it brings us all together."
When Trump talked about the Clintons, who he says he will discuss at length in a speech “probably Monday,” he did not call them “crooked” but instead used more euphemistic and assuredly uncharacteristic language. "The Clintons have turned the politics of personal enrichment into an art form for themselves,” Trump said, his usual on-the-stump flourish replaced by a noticeable punctuation of each word.
The GOP’s presumptive nominee has been known to interact with his usually rambunctious crowds, but responded only once Tuesday night to a supporter in the crowd. “No TPP!” the man shouted. "No PPP, you're right,” Trump agreed, bungling the name of the Trans Pacific Partnership trade deal that he has mentioned many times before at rallies and in interviews. Confusing some in the room, Trump added: “And you mean no PP” before saying that he would not approve the trade deal.
And while Trump’s speech was an olive branch to the right, he also beckoned to supporters from across the aisle. "To all of those Bernie Sanders voters who have been left out in the cold by a rigged system of super delegates, we welcome you with open arms,” Trump said to cheers in the room. Trump has made a play for Sanders voters for some weeks now, noting the two men’s similarities on trade but promising that he’s the only one who can actually do something about it.
“By the way, the terrible trade deals that Bernie was so vehemently against - and he's right on that - will be taken care of far better than anyone ever thought possible,” Trump reiterated on Tuesday. "We are going to have fantastic trade deals. We're going to start making money and bringing in jobs.”
As Trump finalized his pivot to the general election – this time with remarks that actually reflected a planned and purposeful shift, both in tone and substance — he also laid out a new choice for voters in November: who will run the country: monied interests or an outside voice. "I'm going to be America's champion. Because, you see, this election isn't about Republican or Democrat. It's about who runs this country. The special interests or the people. And I mean the American people."
For those who hoped for more scripts and less of Trump’s quintessential off the cuff style, Tuesday night’s performance was right on cue. Just hours before Trump assumed his place at the podium at yet another of his golf courses, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was still pushing for Trump to “get on script” and ditch the unpredictable flow of his speeches. Acknowledging as he has before Trump’s concern that scripted means boring, McConnell reiterated: "You know? Put me down in favor of boring."
Trump has tried this pivot toward a moderated tone before — with little success at having it stick. During past rallies he's expressed the need to continue punching back at rivals in his usual fashion to continue winning and to keep energy at his rallies high. But Tuesday night, Trump acknowledged his reputation as a fighter, and promised that it wasn’t his preference. Instead, “peace” was his preferred course of action.
The GOP presumed nominee left the podium after finishing his remarks, taking on questions and leaving intact the image of a man ready to commit to the second phase of his campaign advisers, strategists, and media alike have wondered about for months. But less than an hour after he had left the room, an email promising to “Make America Great Again” with one of Trump’s more grandiose and regular statements: “I am going to be the best jobs President God ever created!” So maybe not all of the usual flair is gone.