PALM BEACH, Fla. — Donald Trump celebrated his “Super Tuesday” wins his way, not the way that presidential candidates have for decades.
There was no watch party with supporters. No packed suburban hotel ballroom lined with televisions blaring results and commentary. No open bar, passed appetizers or themed drinks. No lengthy victory speech with his wife at his side. No balloons.
Now solidly on track to win the Republican nomination, Trump opted for a press conference instead of a party — the sort of thing candidates usually only do if they have no one left to celebrate with them. But as Trump stood in front of a couple dozen friends and dozens of reporters from around the world on Tuesday night, he started talking like a Republican nominee focused on winning a general election instead of the next primary. His audience: The millions of potential voters sitting at home watching television or scrolling through the Web.
Trump mostly let go of attacking his Republican rivals, instead shifting his focus to Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton. He shifted his campaign message to economic issues: negotiating better trade deals, lowering taxes for the middle class, combating illegal immigration, bringing back jobs from overseas and making the country as rich as the gilded ballroom that served as his setting. And he promised to grow, strengthen and unify the Republican Party.
“I am a unifier,” Trump said, standing in front of 10 American flags on a white stage lit in red and blue. “I would love to see the Republican Party — and everybody — get together and unify. And when we unify, there’s nobody, nobody that’s going to beat us.”
Little about Trump’s campaign for the presidency has been traditional.
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, accompanied by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (left) and his son, Eric Trump (third from left), speaks during a news conference on Super Tuesday primary election night in the White and Gold Ballroom at The Mar-A-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Fla., on March 1, 2016. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
He has never held elected office and is a billionaire, two facts that have become two of his biggest selling points with voters tired of both political parties and the ever-growing influence of major donors. He doesn’t ask for money and doesn’t have an allied super PAC, yet he has received millions in unsolicited donations. He doesn’t have a pollster or speechwriter, yet routinely has managed to latch onto issues just as they’re starting to trend around American dinner tables.
Unlike candidates protected by a bubble of staffers, Trump speaks for himself in an endless stream of tweets, television show call-ins and rally speeches — and he seemed uncomfortable sharing too much of the spotlight with surrogates like former Alaska governor Sarah Palin. He clearly prefers big rallies over shaking hands at greasy spoon diners, although he gave in and did a little bit of that in Iowa and New Hampshire. He’s reluctant to spend money on television ads — or glossy mailers, elaborate Web graphics or consultants. His slogan is simplistic, his promises seem unrealistic, his travel schedule didn’t make clear sense to longtime political strategists.
There was no way a candidate like this was supposed to win anything — and yet that’s what happening.
Trump has not only validated his candidacy with this series of wins, he has validated that his approach to campaigning works. And perhaps that’s why he opted to celebrate Tuesday night with reporters and a few friends at Mar-a-lago, the historic, lavish, exclusive club he owns here in tony Palm Beach. It was a stark change in venue for the candidate, who for nearly nine months has primarily visited struggling industrial towns.
Trump took the stage in the club’s “White and Gold Ballroom” with a few of his top staff members, one of his sons and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R), a former rival who unexpectedly endorsed him. The first two rows were filled with longtime members of the club and friends, dressed Palm Beach-style in suits and diamonds. It was a cheering section that had somehow escaped the reality of aging that afflicted many of the reporters sitting behind them — several men were joined by women who appeared much younger than them, and several of the women had faces lacking winkles of any sort.
Trump spoke for about seven minutes, then took questions — and immediately had to confront the doubts about his candidacy that linger, despite his sweeping wins that night. Can he really unite the country when some Republicans feel he’s dividing their party? Can he win over more moderate voters in a general election, given his far-right positions on many issues? Will he negotiate away his positions? Does he really reject white supremacists? Can he work with Congress having insulted its leaders? What kind of world leader would he be?
Trump talked through each question, seeming to get angry with two reporters who pushed him more than once on questions he thought he had already answered. As he spoke, he kept coming back to Clinton, at one point becoming red-faced as he criticized her work as secretary of state.
“Once we get all of this finished,” Trump said of the primary process, “I’m going to go after one person: Hillary Clinton. And I think that’s frankly going to be an easy race.”
Jose DelReal contributed to this report.
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