Donald Trump on Tuesday did his best impression of a conventional presidential candidate, issuing a lengthy press release about his controversial comments on the lawsuit against now-defunct Trump University and delivering a sedate prepared speech via teleprompter vowing to the Republican Party faithful, “I will never, ever let you down.”
The intent was clear. Trump and his handlers were trying to restore a sense of order and decorum to a candidacy that, much to the distress of the Republican Party establishment, has demonstrated little of either in the weeks since the New York billionaire became its presumptive nominee.
The effect, though, was something akin to a surly adolescent being forced into an ill-fitting jacket and tie and told to be nice to the relatives who are coming to dinner. The question was never whether or not he’d be able to hold it together, but rather how long it would be until the facade cracked and he told Aunt Betty her dress is ugly and called Uncle Lou a moron.
Earlier in the day, Trump’s campaign issued a press release saying that his repeated public statements about the Trump University case, which were crystal-clear in conveying his belief Judge Gonzalo Curiel’s Mexican heritage made him inherently biased against him, had been “misconstrued.” The release concluded with a promise to let the matter rest, saying, “I do not intend to comment on this matter any further.”
That promise lasted no more than a few hours, dissolving the moment Fox News host Sean Hannity put a microphone in front of Trump and asked him about the case.
Hannity, whose Trump-friendly interviews usually accept premises that everyone but Trump would contest, did not change his style last night. He asked Trump if he regretted making the judge’s heritage an issue rather than focusing on the politics of the case, adding, “The judge clearly has a political agenda.”
“No, I like to say what it is, and so many people are seeing that this whole thing is a disgrace,” Trump said.
So much for backing off attacks on Curiel’s heritage.
He referred repeatedly to evaluation forms from former Trump University students that, he claims, are overwhelmingly positive. “We have thousands of these evaluations and I’m going through a trial. It’s a disgrace.”
Trump went on to trash the plaintiffs in the case, but something deep in his brain must have reminded him that he wasn’t supposed to be going down this path, because at one point he said, “It’s really unfair, but I don’t want to talk about it anymore.”
However, he Just. Couldn’t. Stop.
Curiel, he said, is “an Obama appointee judge -- say what you want -- but an Obama appointee judge,” and went on to insinuate some sort of convoluted conspiracy in which the law firm representing the plaintiffs had paid speaking fees to Hillary Clinton.
“The whole thing is disgusting,” he said. “We’re going to win at trial.”
The Hannity interview appears to have been taped prior to Trump’s victory speech in New York’s Westchester County on Tuesday night, in which he tried to undo some of the damage he has done to his standing with the Republican Party’s establishment in recent weeks.
Rather than begin uniting the party after he effectively clinched the nomination five weeks ago, Trump has instead launched into a round of score settling and vituperation to which many GOP leaders and candidates felt forced to respond.
House Speaker Paul Ryan on Tuesday called Trump’s claim that Judge Curiel is biased against him because of his Mexican heritage a “textbook” example of racism. South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham called on fellow Republicans to “un-endorse” Trump, something that embattled Illinois Sen. Mark Kirk did on Tuesday afternoon.
In his speech last night, Trump seemed to nod those who have expressed concern about his fitness for office. “I understand the responsibility of carrying the mantle and I will never, ever let you down – too much work, too many people, blood, sweat and tears,” he said. “I’m never going to let you down. I will make you proud of your party and our movement, and that’s what it is, a movement.”
He even reached across the aisle, as it were, “To those who voted for someone else in either party, I will work hard to earn your support and I will work very hard to earn that support. To all of those Bernie Sanders voters who have been left out in the cold by a rigged system of super delegates, we welcome you with open arms. And by the way, the terrible trade deals that Bernie was so vehemently against and he’s right on that will be taken care of far better than anyone ever thought possible and that’s what I do. We are going to have fantastic trade deals. We’re going to start making money and bringing in jobs.”
However, Trump’s promise to become the sort of leader that members of the Republican Party will be proud of was undercut by his statement earlier in the day that he didn’t need or want the endorsement of all the GOP’s major figures.
Asked by Hannity about Republicans still angry with him for the way he ran his primary campaign, Trump said, “They have to get over it. They shouldn’t be so angry for so long.”
Near the end of his speech, though, Trump made one promise on which he seems certain to deliver: that in the future he’ll be spending more time attacking Hillary Clinton.
“I am going to give a major speech on probably Monday of next week and we’re going to be discussing all of the things that have taken place with the Clintons,” he said suggestively. “I think you’re going to find it very informative and very, very interesting. I wonder if the press will want to attend? Who knows?”