Even for a man who is the walking, talking personification of chutzpah, the performance Donald Trump put on in Washington Monday afternoon was pretty impressive.
At an event at the Old Post Office building in the capital, he first used his status as the Republican frontrunner for the presidential nomination to shill for one of his business ventures. Then, he demonized Republican activists for discussing a third party effort to challenge him – something he refused to rule out before taking a commanding lead in the GOP primary.
Trump called a press conference for Monday afternoon at the Old Post Office, knowing that his position in the Republican race would guarantee him a crowd of reporters and television cameras, many of which would beam his remarks live to cable news outlets.
He then used that time to speak at length about the new Trump hotel under construction on the site, praising its “luxury” suites and its ornate ballroom, pointing to floors that will soon be covered with marble and shops and restaurants that will be filled with businesses renting space from Trump’s own company.
Co-opting the national press for an advertisement of his new hotel might have seemed like enough self-serving audaciousness for one day, but when Trump opened the floor to questions, he turned out to have at least one more jaw-dropping bit of misdirection on tap.
To their credit, most of the reporters at the event didn’t indulge Trump by asking him about his hotel project, but went straight to questions about the presidential race.
When he was asked about opposition to his candidacy from within the Republican Party, Trump took the opportunity to slam GOP activists who have said that they are so opposed to Trump that they would seek to mount a third-party challenge if he wins the nomination.
“’If Trump gets it, we’re going to start a third party,’” the billionaire said from behind his podium. “Well, a third party means that the Democrats are going to win, almost certainly. You can’t be that spiteful. You can’t be that spiteful, because you’ll destroy the country. Third party would destroy the country.”
That is a particularly breathtaking bit of hypocrisy from a man who has held the threat of mounting his own independent bid for the presidency over the party since last summer. Trump signed a loyalty pledge, but not long afterward, said he felt free to declare it void if he didn’t like the way he was treated by the party.
He did always say that he would prefer to run as a Republican, but over the course of months, given the opportunity to promise not to run independently, trump always left the door open to the possibility.
Now, with a major delegate lead, and a plausible argument that he is bringing many new voters into the GOP fold, he evidently sees himself as the presumptive nominee and wants to shut down talk of a party schism.
Referring to leaders of the third-party movement, he said, “If people want to be smart they should embrace this movement…If they don’t want to be smart, they should do what they are doing now and the Republicans are going to go down to a massive loss.”