Donald Trump on Tuesday night sought to calm fretful Republicans bolting from his side over his latest controversy, laying out in measured terms his campaign platform and recasting himself as a “fighter” prepared to take on Hillary Clinton.
After days of characteristic defiance amid charges that his comments accusing a Mexican-American judge of bias were racist, Trump’s speech Tuesday night marked an about-face as a more restrained, yet out-of-character Trump appeared.
Donald Trump turned to the two teleprompters to his left and right on Tuesday night and took a victory lap, as Republicans cast their final votes of the primary season.
He assured Republicans that he understands “the responsibility of carrying the mantle” and vowed to “never let (supporters) down.” He welcomed Sen. Bernie Sanders’ backers with open arms and he slammed Clinton as a deceitful politician who will never achieve the change Americans seek.
“I’m not a politician fighting, I’m me. You’re going to see some really good things happen,” Trump told a roomful of supporters and reporters at his golf club in the suburbs of New York. “Just remember this: I’m going to be your champion. I’m going to be America’s champion.”
Despite his teleprompter-controlled delivery, the speech marked a return to the themes that propelled his unconventional campaign to victory in the primaries. It was a back-to-basics moment after a week consumed by his fights with the media over his veterans fundraising and his claim that a U.S. federal judge was biased against him because of his Mexican heritage.
The New York real estate mogul lamented the state of affairs in the country, from the “dilapidated airports, highways, bridges” and widespread loss of American manufacturing jobs to the chaos roiling the Middle East and the dangers of illegal immigration.
“America is getting taken apart piece by piece,” Trump said.
Trump’s remarks Tuesday night came hours after he released a statement aiming to put his controversial comments about the judge to rest, in which he claimed he had been “misconstrued” and vowed not to comment on the issue again. He did not on Tuesday night.
A top campaign adviser called the speech “very important to recovering from these five bad days.”
Trump spoke Tuesday night ahead of Clinton’s Tuesday night victory speech in which she was set to mark the historic nature of her accomplishment as the first female presumptive nominee of a major party.
Trump did not mark the milestone. Instead, he delved straight into pillorying his general election opponent as a career politician whom Trump accused of being corrupt and indebted to special interests.
“Why would politicians want to change a system that’s made them and their friends very, very wealthy?” Trump said Tuesday night
The billionaire businessman promised more attacks on Clinton, promising to deliver a “major speech on probably Monday of next week” to make his case against “the Clintons.”
Trump has previewed those attacks already as he’s pivoted to the general election, raising former president Bill Clinton’s infidelities and allegations of sexual abuse and slamming Clinton as a “nasty, mean enabler.”
There was also a special message for disappointed Sanders supporters watching dejectedly as Clinton clinched the Democratic nomination.
“To all of those Bernie Sanders voters who have been left out in the cold by a rigged system of superdelegates, we welcome you with open arms,” Trump said.
Trump vowed to press on with his characteristic fighting spirit, but – in a nod to the concerns of Republicans worried Trump may never change morph into a more presidential figure – he also promised to be uniting.
“Some people say I’m too much of a fight,” Trump said. “My preference is always peace.”
And he added: “My goal is always again to bring people together, but if I’m forced to fight for something that I really care about, I will never ever back down and our country will never back down.”
CNN’s Noah Gray contributed to this report.