HOLLYWOOD, Florida (AP) — Donald Trump’s senior team is promising anxious Republicans that voters will see “a real different way” soon after the Republican front-runner claims his party’s presidential nomination.
The message is part of the campaign’s intensifying effort to convince party leaders that Trump will help deliver big electoral gains this fall, despite his contentious ways.
Trump is increasingly optimistic about his chances in five states holding primary contests Tuesday: Rhode Island, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Maryland. He is now the only candidate who can possibly collect the 1,237-delegate majority needed to claim the Republican nomination before the party’s July convention
“When he’s out on the stage, when he’s talking about the kinds of things he’s talking about on the stump, he’s projecting an image that’s for that purpose,” Paul Manafort, who is leading Trump’s primary election strategy, told Republican National Committee members in a private briefing late Thursday. The Associated Press obtained a recording of the discussion.
“You’ll start to see more depth of the person, the real person. You’ll see a real different way,” Manafort said.
“He gets it,” Manafort said of Trump’s need to moderate his brash personality. “The part that he’s been playing is evolving into the part that now you’ve been expecting, but he wasn’t ready for, because he had first to complete the first phase. The negatives will come down. The image is going to change.”
On the Democratic side Friday, Bernie Sanders sent mixed signals on whether he will persist in his pointed critique of Hillary Clinton’s record as some Democrats urge the party to coalesce around the former secretary of state.
Sanders largely gave her a pass, except by implication, as he denounced the thinking behind the Iraq war, which she supported, and warned of the risks of pushing regime change, as he addressed and took questions from a crowd of some 2,000 in a gym, with hundreds more in an overflow room.
Clinton has been more muted in her assessment of Sanders since she won a convincing victory in her home state of New York. She briefly mentioned his handling of gun control at an event Friday in Pennsylvania, as she did a day earlier with Connecticut family members of the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting.
“I voted against it,” she said of a bill to protect gun-makers from legal liability. “My opponent, Senator Sanders voted for it.” She said the bill “has given a really free hand to gunmakers and sellers.” But on both occasions she resisted wading deeply into his record.
Trump’s new message opens him up to questions about his authenticity, and Republican rival Ted Cruz seized on the remarks in a radio interview late Thursday.
“I’m actually going to give Trump a little bit of credit here. He’s being candid. He’s telling us he’s lying to us,” Cruz told host Mark Levin. “You look at what his campaign manager says, is that this is just an act. This is just a show.”
The Texas senator continued: “When Donald talks about building a wall, when Donald talks about enforcing immigration laws, when Donald talks about, I guess, anything, that it’s all an act, a show.”
The Republican National Committee gathered at a seaside resort in southern Florida for its annual spring meeting. While candidates in both parties targeted primary contests in the Northeast, Hollywood’s Diplomat Resort & Spa turned into a palm-treed political battleground.
Senior advisers for Trump, Cruz and Ohio Gov. John Kasich courted RNC members in a series of private meetings on the resort’s grounds, sometimes sitting at adjacent tables in the marble-floored lobby. Trump’s tightening grasp of his party’s presidential nomination dominated much of the hallway discussion.
“He’s trying to moderate. He’s getting better,” said Ben Carson, a Trump ally who was part of the party front-runner’s RNC outreach team.
Despite his team’s aggressive message, Trump was telling voters he wasn’t quite ready to act presidential. “I just don’t know if I want to do it yet,” he said during a raucous rally in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, that was frequently interrupted by protesters.
“At some point, I’m going to be so presidential that you people will be so bored,” he said, predicting that the size of his crowds would dwindle if he dialed back his rhetoric.