Shortly after he won Illinois, Donald Trump took to the podium inside the Donald J. Trump Grand Ballroom at the Trump-owned Mar-a-Lago club to rouse hundreds of club members he’d invited to his primary-night party. But the audience Trump was really addressing tonight was hundreds of miles away.
Standing onstage surrounded by his campaign staff and family, Trump spoke to the Republican Establishment in Washington and sent a message: It’s time to accept the reality that he’s their likely nominee. “The fact is, we have to bring the Republican Party together,” he said.
So far, Trump has been able to transform his fanciful boasts into reality, but bringing the Establishment to heel may be his toughest bit of alchemy yet. Now that Trump has all but ensured that he will be the outright nominee or that he’ll have a majority delegate count in the event of a contested convention, will the GOP mount a challenge in Cleveland that will tip the nomination to Cruz — or, worse in Trump’s eyes, recruit a white knight like Mitt Romney, Jeb Bush, or even Paul Ryan?
Trump sought to quell his critics and increase his negotiating leverage by reminding people that the party hasn’t disowned him yet. “Paul Ryan called me the other day. It was a tremendous call,” he said. “I spoke with Mitch McConnell. Great conversation.” Also, by hyping the size of his base, he made it clear it would be electoral suicide if they did try to take the nomination from his clutches. “We have something happening that makes the Republican Party probably the biggest political story in the world,” he said. “Everyone around the world is talking about it. Millions of people are coming in to vote.”
Trump seemed to be presenting the GOP with a choice: Grant me the nomination or lose this mass of voters, thereby guaranteeing a win for Hillary Clinton in November. “Democrats are coming in, independents are coming in, and very, very importantly, people who haven’t voted before are coming in,” he said.
Trump further made his case by presenting himself as the strongest candidate to go up against the Clinton machine. “No one in the history of politics has received the kind of negative advertising that I have,” he boasted. “They said it was $18 million last week, and $25 million this week. Can you explain it to me? Because I can’t. My numbers went up!”
By all accounts, the brief speech was very un-Trumpian. Continuing his subdued debate performance last week, there were no “Little Marco” or “Lying Ted” jabs. Instead, he congratulated Rubio and left Cruz unmentioned. Trump even passed on an opportunity to tangle with reporters, another favorite pastime of his, refusing to take questions after his remarks. “We’re going to win win win, we’re not stopping,” he said, before he walked off the stage and left the GOP Establishment to ponder the same question Robert Redford posed at the end of The Candidate: What do we do now?