After getting sidetracked by a series of attacks on a federal judge – attacks that led to another potent round of condemnation from the Republican establishment – Donald Trump got back on message Tuesday night with a prepared speech that favored coherency over controversy. As Hillary Clinton claimed the Democratic nomination in Brooklyn, Trump gave one of his most “presidential” speeches to date.
“You’ve given me the honor to lead the Republican Party to victory this fall,” Trump said. “We’re going to do it, folks. I understand the responsibility of carrying the mantle and I will never ever let you down. I will make you proud of your party and your movement.”
Reading from a teleprompter for only the third or fourth time since jumping into the race last summer, Trump avoided topics of Muslims, Mexicans, and biased judges. Instead, he went back to the central theme of his candidacy: The dangers of politics-as-usual.
“We can’t solve our problems by counting on the politicians who created our problems,” he said.
In embracing this theme, Trump gave Bernie Sanders supporters an overt invitation.
“To those who voted for someone else in either party, I’ll work hard to earn your support,” Trump said. “I will work very hard to earn that support. To all of those Bernie Sanders supporters who have been left out in the cold by a rigged system of superdelegates, we welcome you with open arms.”
While the media was going gaga over Hillary Clinton’s historic moment, Trump reminded the public what they were really getting in the would-be first female president.
“The Clintons have turned the politics of personal enrichment into an art form for themselves,” he said. “They’ve made hundreds of millions of dollars selling access, selling favors, selling government contracts. Secretary Clinton even did all of the work on a totally illegal, private server.”
This is the Donald Trump that many reluctant supporters were hoping to see once the billionaire locked up the Republican nomination. Instead, Trump has intensified his controversial approach to politics, earning near-universal scorn for his repeated insistence that Judge Gonzalo Curiel could not fairly preside over the Trump University lawsuit due to his Mexican heritage.
Trump’s questionable remarks have helped him dominate political coverage for the past year, but it is his “America First” theme that has made him a champion for millions of disenfranchised, frustrated conservatives. He no longer needs to use every trick in the book to steal publicity away from 16 other candidates; he’s going to get plenty of coverage over the next six months even if he confines himself to his Trump Tower penthouse. The name of the game now – just as it was before – is winning. But winning in November is going to require Trump to show the country some agility and discipline. He’s got the base. Now he needs everyone else.
If Tuesday night’s speech is a sign of things to come, he will get his chance to make America great again.