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CLEVELAND — On the first day of the general election race, everything old is new again.
Less than 12 hours after a scripted, 75-minute address to the Republican National Convention, Donald Trump was back to his old tricks — unscripted and rehashing old battles from the primaries.
During his Thursday night remarks, Trump was mum on Sen. Ted Cruz’s non-endorsement. But soon after officially accepting the Republican Party's nomination, he used the Texas senator’s slight as an opportunity to disavow wanting any future endorsements. He also quickly ripped open old wounds — including a rehashing of attacks and allegations lobbed by Trump about Cruz’s wife, Heidi, and father, Rafael.
“I didn’t start anything with the wife,” Trump said Friday at a thank-you gathering for volunteers and staff, The comment came right after he wondered aloud if he could start a super PAC to counter Cruz if he decides to run for president again in 2020.
The controversy Trump referenced started on Twitter in late March when Trump retweeted a user-generated picture that featured an unflattering photo of Heidi Cruz. The tweet prompted a feisty warning from Cruz to “leave Heidi the hell alone.”
Now, despite being the official standard bearer of the party, Trump once again dredged up the fight — making sure one more time that his audience knew Cruz, effectively, hit him first.
“They sent out the first picture, please remember that,” Trump implored. He did not mention his role in retweeting the photo — an act that Trump actually admitted to The New York Times was a mistake in April.
Fast forward to Friday, Trump said he thinks Heidi Cruz is a “great person” and “the best thing he’s got going — and his kids, if you want to know the truth.” He followed the compliment by adding that Cruz has “good intellect, but he doesn’t know how to use it."
In yet another characteristic move, the GOP nominee’s well-documented habit of taking conspiracy theories as fact was once again on display in Cleveland, when he resurrected baseless allegations, initially made by Trump in April, about Cruz’s father’s involvement in the 1963 assassination of President Kennedy.
Trump once again re-told the theory, pointing out that “they never denied” that it was Rafael Cruz. He even made the case that the tabloid National Enquirer, who reported on the photos, “should be very respected.” After all, Trump explained, referencing past pop culture and political scandals, “they got OJ [Simpson], they got [John] Edwards, they got this. I mean, if that was the New York Times they would’ve gotten Pulitzer Prizes for their reporting. I’ve always said: why didn’t the National Enquirer get the Pulitzer Prize for Edwards and OJ Simpson and all of these things?”
After a week where the unity of the Republican Party stands in question, Trump did little to appease the naysayers, despite calling the convention one of the most “love-filled conventions in the history of conventions.” He lashed out once again at Ohio Gov. John Kasich — another former rival who continues to refuse supporting the nominee — saying “no matter how much you like or dislike … you gotta go with Trump” in order to ensure the appointment of conservative Supreme Court nominations.
Trump, who acknowledged that his success in the primaries was due in part to his “outsider” status, remained assured that Indiana Gov. Mike Pence was the right pick for VP — unless he wasn’t, of course. "I ran as an outsider, I didn’t want anybody,” Trump said. "Now I have guys like Mike Pence ... See now if I don’t win, I’m going to blame Mike, right? We have to blame Mike.”
But other than looking forward to Pence as vice president, Trump’s mind was still squarely in the primaries. Standing in front of a room of staff and supporters from across the country who contributed to his early successes, Trump called out friends and staffers by name. At one point, he even brought up his press secretary Hope Hicks, and allowed Social Media Director Dan Scavino the chance to give hash-tag filled remarks for the hundred-or-so person audience. He thanked his fired former campaign manager-turned-CNN pundit, Corey Lewandowski, before thanking his Convention Manager and Chief Strategist Paul Manafort.
The rambling remarks once again lent evidence to those who said Trump would never pivot in a general election. Instead, he’s shown time and again he’ll be pushing forward with more of what got him to the nomination in the first place. And on day one of the general election, Trump did exactly that.