Donald Trump — on Tuesday, at least — looked like a frontrunner who can take a punch and turn a cheek.
After absorbing the first wave of a big-money assault from anti-Trump forces within the Republican party, the New York billionaire nevertheless pulled out convincing wins in Mississippi and Michigan, a pair of hardscrabble states on opposite ends of the country.
In a freewheeling speech-cum-press conference celebrating his victory, Trump made a conscious effort to sound like the nominee. The race remains a four-way contest, Trump’s Tuesday wins notwithstanding, and he faces an uncertain fight to secure the 1,237 delegates needed to clinch the nomination before the Republican Party’s national convention in July. Perhaps that explains why the candidate tried to soften his trademark vindictiveness with some magnanimity.
Consider how his tone toward one party leader shifted. A week ago, after a strong performance in the Super Tuesday contests, Trump at a similar event threatened House Speaker Paul Ryan, who’d earlier in the day criticized his failure to denounce white supremacists. If the two didn’t get along, Trump warned, “he’s going to pay a big price.” The two have since talked by phone about the House Republican agenda, and Trump on Tuesday had only praise for Ryan.
Trump opened the event, held at the Trump National Golf Club in Jupiter, Fla, by making what appeared to be a pitch to those arrayed against him in the party. Many in the Republican establishment fear Trump would prove an anchor on down-ballot candidates; Trump talked up the need to ensure that incumbent Republican lawmakers win reelection. And for those concerned a Trump nomination would guarantee a general election loss, Trump pressed the point that Republican turnout in the primaries has swamped that of Democrats — a sign, he said, of the party-building enthusiasm he’s generating.
“Hillary is going to be very easy to beat. She’s a very flawed candidate,” Trump said later. And he pledged to tone down his vulgar language should he pull it off. “I’ll be more presidential than anybody but the great Abe Lincoln.”
Though Trump doled out his usual measure of abuse to his critics — reveling, for example, in how he politically mortified South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham, claiming to have forced him from the presidential race — he also extended some rare olive branches. “I could probably get along with Mitt Romney,” he said of the 2012 GOP nominee, who savaged Trump in a speech last week and has since recorded robocalls for two of his rivals. Added Trump, “I could probably get along with Lindsay Graham.”