Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump said something very un-Trumpian early on in his victory speech Tuesday night after winning Michigan and Mississippi.
After heaping praise on House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.), Trump said: "It’s very, very important as a Republican that our senators and congressmen get reelected."
Er … what?
This is the same Trump who has spent almost every day of his presidential campaign deriding Republican leaders in Washington as feckless morons — not smart enough to cut good deals and not tough enough to stand up to President Obama.
So I’ve watched the politicians. I’ve dealt with them all my life. If you can’t make a good deal with a politician, then there’s something wrong with you. You’re certainly not very good. And that’s what we have representing us. They will never make America great again. They don’t even have a chance. They’re controlled fully — they’re controlled fully by the lobbyists, by the donors, and by the special interests, fully.
Pretty harsh, right? And he has done very little over the intervening nine months that suggests his views on people in elected office have changed much. In fact, the strength and success of Trump's candidacy is premised on the idea that he has (a) never been in politics before and (b) actively disdains those who have made it a profession.
So why the sudden change of heart about Ryan and the sort-of-weirdly-out-of-place call to reelect Republicans? Simple: Trump now believes he will be the GOP nominee, and this is his way — or at least the start of his way — of trying to make nice with a Republican establishment he knows lives in fear of what his candidacy could do to its chances in down-ballot races.
What Trump is saying, in his own weird way, is that he gets it. He knows that all of the "Republican politicians are idiots" stuff is not helpful to the broader efforts of the party and that, as the nominee, he will cut it out. And, in turn, Trump is asking the GOP establishment to understand that all of those nasty things he said were solely politics — he didn't really mean it, and he is someone they can work with.
Just in case the Paul Ryans and Mitch McConnells of the world missed that message on Tuesday night, Trump delivered it again in a slew of media interviews Wednesday morning. Here's Trump on the "Today" show:
"We have something going on that is the political story all over the world. Millions of people are coming out and voting in the primary. We have something that if we could embrace it we are going to have a massive victory in November.... If this party came together, no one could beat it."
According to The Fix's survey of Republican senators, Trump is already in decent shape when it comes to support from the upper chamber. Twenty-eight senators said they could and would support Trump as their party's nominee while just one — Nebraska's Ben Sasse — said he could not.
Of course, "would be willing to support" and "would enthusiastically support" are two very different things. And McConnell, the leader of Senate Republicans, has already made clear that he will advise his endangered incumbents to stay away from Trump at all costs. This, from an amazing New York Times piece on Trump and the GOP:
Mr. McConnell has begun preparing senators for the prospect of a Trump nomination, assuring them that, if it threatened to harm them in the general election, they could run negative ads about Mr. Trump to create space between him and Republican senators seeking re-election. Mr. McConnell has raised the possibility of treating Mr. Trump’s loss as a given and describing a Republican Senate to voters as a necessary check on a President Hillary Clinton, according to senators at the lunches.
Trump, with his rhetoric over the last 24 hours, is hoping to show McConnell and the rest of the party establishment that not only is he going to be the nominee but also that he is someone with whom they can find common cause.
Whether he can convince anyone on that front very much remains to be seen, but the very fact that Trump is trying to do it speaks to both his confidence in his chances of being the nominee and his understanding of the need to attempt to unite the party behind him. The general election, in Trump's mind, has begun.