The lopsided vote results set the stage for last night’s key speeches. Donald Trump’s over/under for the night sat in the low 90s for pledged delegates. He cleared the bar with 105 (and that does not include any of Pennsylvania’s unbound 54), and took to the podium to close the deal. Although Bernie Sanders won Rhode Island, he lost ground. He all but conceded the nomination after his speech, releasing a statement that “this campaign is going to the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia with as many delegates as possible to fight for a progressive party platform.” (Emphasis added.)
Ted Cruz spoke from Knightstown Indiana, ducking into the last television block before the polls closed. He was in a groove, growling from a lower register. Media executives want Clinton to win, so they favor Trump, he snarled. “But tonight this campaign moves back to Indiana.” Cruz then re-enacted the basket height scene from “Hoosiers.” All right, who among us has not taken refuge in a miracle scenario when things look gloomy? Then again, who among us refers to the basket rim as a “ring?” Cruz’s main argument equated Trump and Clinton as New York liberals, sardonically suggesting they could share a ticket before rolling out thirteen issues on which they agreed. From his vantage point at the far end of the ideological spectrum, seeing them as the same is an understandable perception. But it is very hard to forge a coalition from that position.
Bernie Sanders spoke just after the poll-closing hour from Huntington West Virginia. He nourished the spirits of the thousands assembled. He made his best remaining case: we beat Trump by a bigger margin than Clinton; we win Independent voters and some GOP voters. He noted that the general election is not closed like New York was last week, and the crowd booed. He refrained from calling the primary process “rigged,” but that may have been in his audience’s minds.
Then Sanders subtly shifted from viable candidate to influential critic: “We got 6000 people in this room tonight….It’s because we are telling the truth, even though it is not always pleasant.” Like Cruz, Sanders bashed the media, although he prefers speaking of them as “corporations.” Then came a policy brief describing life in our severely and unjustly stratified America. One quarter of children in West Virginia live in poverty; real unemployment is much higher than the official count (Trump says that often, too). More bad stats followed, including shortened life expectancies for the poor: “poverty as a death sentence.” The networks cut away and the bulk of the platform-aiming speech aired, appropriately, on C-SPAN.
Hillary Clinton addressed a crowd in Philadelphia, delivering a weaker version of her dress rehearsal acceptance speech than she did last week in Brooklyn. Her talk was laden with what are quickly becoming wearisome lines, especially those with epigrammatic dualities: “An America where we lift each other up instead of tear each other down;” “There is more that unites us than divides us;” “Love trumps hate (get it? See what I’m doing there?);” “There is nothing wrong with America that cannot be cured… (Oh, Google it).” Clinton told another story of a courageous woman coping with circumstances that government and civil society should alleviate. This week, however, the tear-jerker anecdote was placed up top instead of near the end, and she rushed through it with no beat for an audience reaction. A subpar performance but it doesn’t really matter.
Donald Trump spoke from The Lobby of His Manhattan Tower, the property with what may now be the world’s most famous Escalator. (I’m betting the day is not far off when tourists will be charged a fee to ride it.) Out of convenience, strategy, or both, Trump decided he was better off speaking from HQ than the field. His remarks featured an assortment of facts, fictions, threats, and arguments unified by a tone meant to intimidate.
Chris Christie was in the backdrop entourage, not looking as pathetic as when he stood alone at Mar-A-Lago, but still the message was clear: he belongs to Trump.
Trump dealt first with the irritation at hand. The Cruz-Kasich territory-splitting alliance, he said, shows weakness, and in business it would be termed collusion. Weakness, absolutely. Collusion? A useful analogical stretch, but in politics it’s not only legitimate but a good practice to team up.
In the competition for Indiana basketball chops, Trump announced the endorsement of the appropriately tempestuous coach Bobby Knight. Will any of the three Republicans land a Larry Bird endorsement?
The media, Trump noted, have been fair the last two weeks. The implication was that they are on probation.
Democrats, he said, have treated Bernie badly and he should run as an Independent. Sure, Donald, take a shot at dividing the Democratic vote. Trump also bragged that his crowds were bigger than Sanders’s lately.
John Kasich was belittled as a “spoiled person” who will cave at the first negative ad.
Trump opened The Lobby to questions from the media. It was impossible to hear the questions. I’m not sure whether that was deliberate.
Yes, Trump answered, he considers himself the presumptive nominee. Headline!
“Carrier Air Conditioning will not be leaving Indiana if I’m president.” Threatening corporations who take jobs out of the country has been at the base of Trump’s appeal, and he continues to be the only candidate who consistently does this by name. Sanders berates corporations for greed, and Clinton went after Johnson Controls for not paying taxes, but Trump is the protector of the people against corporations who betray the country, and his threats are oddly made credible by his insults to other candidates. He tells it “like it is,” as the exit polls confirm.
Trump went on a long riff (as he acknowledges) on the math of his vote totals. He was at pains to discuss his large number of opponents “which the pundits never talk about.” The point was to rebut the charge that he has not gone over 50% in vote share until now because of that number, and now that only two opponents remain, he is.
Trump danced around the accusation that he’s been faking, a notion that surfaced via a leaked sound bite from campaign manager Paul Manafort at last week’s RNC meetings: “I’m not playing a part.” “I may act differently but my thought processes are the same.”
We also heard snatches of the attacks we will hear all summer and fall: Crooked Hillary knows nothing about job creation; her husband signed NAFTA, a disaster for this country. She lacks the strength and stamina to deal with China or other things. Bernie has been telling the truth (as he said earlier!), what Clinton did is a “criminal outrage” and “a dangerous thing for our country.” The only thing she’s got going for her is “the women’s card” (“Deal me in!” she had said in her speech, responding to an earlier statement by Trump to this effect.) If she were a man she wouldn’t get 5 %. Women don’t like her.
Chair Reince Priebus “is a very good man,” Trump noted in passing. It sounded slightly menacing as uttered; like the media, the party elites are on probation. Trump agreed to give momentary and hypothetical consideration of the unlikely development that the convention will go past the first ballot in order to quash the scenario in advance. Trump said he will be five million votes ahead, and he will have brought all these people into the party –how do you say to them you are going to choose someone else? Spot-on rhetorical question.
As a coda, Trump also said he will “stick with my feeling on immigration.” Pressed on his false claim that millions are pouring across the borders, he said “I just read it in a respectable journal.” He has to build the wall because it is his signature promise, so he will invent statistics to justify it.
In talking about Cruz, Kasich, Carrier, the media, Priebus, and Clinton, Trump crushed for the close. It is a tough guy approach his supporters like because they envision him doing it on their behalf as president. We will now see how persuasive it is with his opponents in the party.