Weary Republicans are looking for assurances that Donald Trump can maintain the discipline needed to stay on message as he prepares for a bruising general election run-up against Hillary Clinton.
Trump’s conciliatory, teleprompter-guided victory speech Tuesday appeared to stave off at least for the time being a near-revolt over his racially divisive attacks against the American-born judge of Mexican heritage hearing the case against his now-defunct Trump University.
As he kicked off his general election campaign Friday, a thorny question has arisen: How does the party keep Trump in check?
“A primary campaign against 16 opponents is very different and combative in a different way than a general election against a well-organized, well-funded Clinton machine,” said Republican Chris Collins, who has been helping to coordinate Trump’s outreach to Congress.
Collins said he understood there would be lingering questions about Trump after the distracting episode, but said the speech was part of what he sees as a “total pivot” by the candidate.
“Mr Trump is a very smart guy and wants to win,” he said after a weekly gathering with Trump staff on Thursday.
“I’m convinced we’ll see a very disciplined GOP nominee moving forward.”
The judge episode arguably marked the biggest crisis of Trump’s campaign to date, and sparked a series of phone calls from concerned Republicans, including House Speaker Paul Ryan, pressing the gravity of the situation.
“I explained exactly what I thought about that comment.
I said it publicly and I said it privately,” Ryan said in an interview that aired on “Good Morning America” Friday.
“I don’t know what’s in his heart,” he added.
“But I do think, hope and believe that he’s going to improve the tenor of the campaign, the tone of the campaign, the kind of campaign that he’s going to run.”
It remains to be seen, however, how deeply Trump has internalized the message. Since launching his campaign, Trump has pushed back against calls by some of his closest aides and family members to adopt a more “presidential tone.
“His fiery language and penchant for controversy has earned him endless free media attention and energized voters during the primaries, helping him secure victory.
“You think I’m going to change? I’m not changing,” he boomed at a press conference recently.
Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski dismissed the idea of an intervention, and downplayed the significance of the victory speech, noting that Trump has used teleprompters on multiple occasions to deliver specific remarks.
“From time to time, he’ll use it. But’s a function of the audience and what he wants to say.
I can guarantee you this: In Richmond tonight, it will not be a teleprompter speech,” he said.
Indeed, Trump was already showing signs that general election Trump will sound a lot like primary Trump.
At a rally later in Richmond, Virginia, he evoked the nickname yet again, saying “Pocahontas is not too happy!” That prompted some in the crowd to break out into Indian war cries.