Billionaire outsider Donald Trump sought to cast himself as the inclusive GOP candidate in the presidential race after racking up big primary wins here and through the South last night, even as his chief rivals kept attacking him and Hillary Clinton started training her sights his way.
“Look, we have expanded the Republican Party,” Trump said, suggesting he’s building a broad coalition in much the same way Ronald Reagan did with conservative Democrats. “When you look at what happened in South Carolina. … they came from the Democratic Party. … They’re longtime Democrats. … They all switched. And they were independents.
“I am a unifier,” Trump said. “Once we get all of this finished, I’m going after one person and that’s Hillary Clinton, on the assumption she’s allowed to run.”
A more measured Trump toned down his bombastic rhetoric, taking the high road and congratulating U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz on winning Texas. He even fielded several questions from reporters at his victory rally in Florida in a potential glimpse into what the billionaire’s general campaign might look like.
Then he took aim at Clinton.
“I watched Hillary’s speech, and she’s talking about wages have been poor,” Trump said. “She’s been there for so long. If she hasn’t straightened it out by now, she’s not going to straighten it out in the next four years. It’s just going to get worse and worse.”
Trump cruised to victories in Massachusetts, Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Tennessee, Vermont and Virginia last night. Cruz won his home state of Texas as well as Oklahoma, a “closed primary” open only to registered Republicans. Florida U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio took his first state, Minnesota.
Cruz and Rubio insisted their fight is just getting started.
“Just 5 days ago we began to unmask the true nature of the front-runner so far in this race,” Rubio said last night. “Five days ago we began to explain to American people that Donald Trump is a con artist.”
Cruz hinted his opponents should drop out to consolidate the anti-Trump vote, arguing he has the best chance of defeating the New York businessman for the nomination.
Without naming Trump, Clinton hit on themes that played off his anti-immigration comments.
“Instead of building walls, we’re going to break down barriers and build ladders of opportunity and empowerment,” Clinton said.
An anti-Trump social media campaign, meanwhile, has also popped up, using the Twitter hashtag #NeverTrump, which trended last night.
Tim Miller, Jeb Bush’s former campaign spokesman, now working for Our Principles PAC, an anti-Trump super PAC, promised the battle will only intensify despite last night’s results.
“Donald’s general election campaign will fail worse than Trump Mortgage and Trump Steaks,” Miller wrote in an email to reporters last night. “Hillary Clinton will destroy him even if she’s campaigning from jail. Our Principles PAC will fight until the last delegate is counted to stop that from happening.”
Trump campaigned earlier in the day in Kasich’s home state of Ohio and in Kentucky, both with contests in the next few weeks. The strategy suggested Trump is already several steps ahead of his rivals, with the billionaire mogul holding leads in the polls in both Florida and Ohio.
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