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Opinion Donald Trump tries to project strength, but reveals his brittle glass jaw

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What Donald Trump is doing on the campaign trail

U.S. Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks at a campaign event at Trump Doral golf course in Miami, Florida, U.S. July 27, 2016. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri (Carlo Allegri/Reuters)


Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton rolled to big victories in last night’s primaries, stomping towards their respective nominations and boosting the odds of a Trump-Clinton showdown this fall. Trump swept all five states, and Clinton won four of them, rendering Bernie Sanders’s odds all but impossible — and both leading candidates are now telegraphing their lines of attack for the general election.

If there is one thing that should alarm Republicans the most, it’s that Trump has already “pivoted,” to use the well-worn cliche — that is, from trying to appear restrained and presidential (as his aides suggested he was doing) to renewing his determination to do everything possible to alienate female voters in the showdown against Clinton. Here’s one quote from yesterday:

“I call her ‘Crooked Hillary.’ She’s crooked. She’ll be a horrible president. . . . She knows nothing about jobs, except for jobs for herself. And when it came to answering the phone at 3 o’clock in the morning, she was sleeping, with Benghazi. . . . She doesn’t have the strength or the stamina to deal with China or other things.”
He dismissed her qualifications for office by accusing Clinton of playing “the woman’s card” and charging, “If Hillary Clinton were a man I don’t think she’d get five percent of the vote.”

Late last night, Clinton responded with this: “If fighting for women’s health care, and paid family leave, and equal pay is ‘playing the woman’s card,’ then deal me in.” On Morning Joe today, Trump responded:

“I haven’t quite recovered — it’s early in the morning — from her shouting that message. And I know a lot of people would say you can’t say that about a woman, because of course a woman doesn’t shout. But the way she shouted that message was…oooooh. That’s the way she said it. I guess I’ll have to get used to a lot of that over the next four or five months.”

Trump’s public cringing over Clinton’s shouting — and his obvious distaste over the prospect of having to endure it for months — may foreshadow what’s to come. In the first quote, Trump appears to genuinely believe that he is demonstrating the power and strength of his coming message against her. But at bottom, all Trump is doing is reading from the standard GOP playbook — the Democratic candidate is too weak to be president; Clinton is corrupt; Clinton allowed Benghazi to happen; Clinton is playing identity politics — only he’s adding an extra dose of chauvinism on top of it.

Trump and Clinton spar over the "woman card" and Sen. Bernie Sanders, after Trump wins presidential primaries in five states and Clinton wins four on April 26. (Video: Sarah Parnass/The Washington Post)

In the second quote, Trump — sounding very giddy over his massive victories among GOP primary voters, who have gobbled up his act — signals that he really seems to believe that the general election audience, which is a very different audience indeed, will share his revulsion over her “shouting.” (Note that he reprises this idea that he’s blowing through politically correct barriers — another thing that thrilled GOP primary voters, but won’t have the same magical appeal to a general electorate — by telling it like it is about her shouting.)

This is not strength. It’s weakness. It’s his weakness, in the sense that he plainly can’t help but respond to her in this way. And more to the point, Trump doesn’t appear to know it.

Meanwhile, top Clinton allies, such as those at the pro-Clinton Super PAC Priorities USA, are already drawing up a strategy to target female voters with an emphasis on kitchen table issues:

“Realistically, the most important part in all of this are white working-class women,” said Geoff Garin, a pollster and strategist on Mrs. Clinton’s 2008 campaign who is now advising Priorities, citing Mrs. Clinton’s emphasis on issues like equal pay for women and an increase in the minimum wage.

On Morning Joe, Trump was pressed on whether her focus on issues that matter to women might present him with a problem. He brushed this off, and instead pivoted to…her emails.

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* THE DELEGATE MATH, AFTER LAST NIGHT’S POUNDINGS: The First Read crew tallies it up: Trump needs to win 50 percent of remaining delegates to clinch the nomination. And on the Dem side:

Clinton must win 36 percent of the remaining pledged delegates to get a majority in pledged delegates (was 41 percent). Sanders must win 64 percent of the remaining pledged delegates to get a majority in pledged delegates (was 59 percent).

The Sanders camp may continue to insist that he’ll flip super-delegates even after she wins a majority of pledged delegates. But the super-dels aren’t going to switch.

* BERNIE NOW FACES IMPOSSIBLE ODDS: Add in the super-delegates, and the math gets even harder for Sanders, as The Post’s delegate count and projections demonstrate:

There are 14 Democratic contests left, including those in Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia, and Clinton has roughly 80 percent of the delegates she needs to win when factoring in super-delegates who have publicly declared support for her. To catch Clinton, Sanders would need to win approximately 80 percent of the vote in most or all of those contests, margins neither candidate has previously won.

That doesn’t seem plausible.

* HILLARY CAMP SEES POSSIBLE VICTORY IN MAY: Here’s the Hillary campaign’s reading on yesterday’s results and what they mean for the delegate math:

Clinton advisers predicted late Tuesday night that she was poised to net roughly 50 more pledged delegates than Mr. Sanders, out of 462 up for grabs, adding to her lead of about 240 going into the primaries. Clinton advisers said Tuesday’s final delegate tally would reveal not if, but when, Mrs. Clinton would win the nomination: either in early June, if she continues at her current pace, or as soon as the Kentucky and Oregon primaries on May 17.

That’s if the super-delegates are included. The current count is that Clinton has 2,159, versus 1,370 for Sanders, out of 2,383 needed to win the nomination.

* DID BERNIE JUST CONCEDE DEFEAT? Via Philip Bump, the Sanders campaign released this statement last night:

The people in every state in this country should have the right to determine who they want as president and what the agenda of the Democratic Party should be. That’s why we are in this race until the last vote is cast. That is why this campaign is going to the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia with as many delegates as possible to fight for a progressive party platform.

That sounds like Sanders is admitting that his aim at this point is to influence the party platform. It’s consistent with the scenario in which he concedes after the voting but before the convention.

* NEVER-TRUMP MOVEMENT’S BACK IS TO THE WALL: Nate Silver calculates that Trump’s smashing victories put him slightly ahead of what he needs to reach a majority of delegates and clinch the nomination. That means the stakes in Indiana next week are extraordinarily high:

Trump’s strong results over the past two weeks have changed the Hoosier State from potentially being “must-win” for Trump to probably being “must-win” for his opponents.

Trump now has 949 delegates to 544 for Ted Cruz, out of 1, 237 needed to win the nomination.

* TRUMP MAY BE ONLY TWO STATES FROM VICTORY: Nate Cohn notes that Trump is favored to win upcoming contests in New Jersey and West Virginia, which leaves two states that could allow him to clinch the nomination:

That leaves Indiana and California, the most competitive remaining contests and also the ones with the most delegates at stake….Mr. Trump has led in every poll conducted in the two states since March. They have a combined 229 pledged delegates….If Mr. Trump wins both states, he will be favored to win the nomination. A clear win in California but a loss in Indiana would set up a contested convention….If Mr. Trump wins Indiana, a merely modest win in California could be enough to give him 1,237 delegates.

And so, if Trump wins Indiana, it suddenly becomes a lot more likely that he’ll avoid a contested convention and become the nominee.

* HILLARY ALLIES CALL ON BERNIE TO TONE IT DOWN: The New York Times reports that Clinton allies are now calling on Sanders to rein in the criticism of her, lest it damage her for the general election. Here’s former Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell:

“If he tones down the rhetoric and continues to fight, he’ll go out on a very high note with a lot of people, including me, thinking he did a great service to American democracy. But if he keeps it up, it could be brutal.”

Keep an eye on how Sanders handles this, after his big losses last night.

* AND DEMS HAVE A GOOD NIGHT IN SENATE FIGHT: Dem Rep. Chris Van Hollen beat Rep. Donna Edwards in the Maryland Senate primary, and Katie McGinty won the Dem Senate nomination in Pennsylvania. Amber Phillips explains why this is good news for Dems:

Senate Democrats spent more than $1 million…to help Katie McGinty…The investment of time and money underscored their hopes she has the best chance of the two at ousting Sen. Pat Toomey (R) in November and helping Democrats win back control of the Senate….Democrats officially stayed neutral in Maryland’s primary race…But they privately wanted Rep. Chris Van Hollen to beat Rep. Donna Edwards, a fiery liberal who is is not as well liked as Van Hollen.

Van Hollen, a smart, creative legislator and political tactician, will be a good Senator, and McGinty boosts the Dems’ chances of taking back the Upper chamber.