Donald Trump’s victory in Indiana means he’s now all but certain to be the Republican nominee. It’s a moment that many thought just couldn’t happen. As journalists, we’ve spent months writing off the Donald and ruminating on why his latest ‘gaffe’ will spell the end – he has said he wants to build a wall to keep Mexicans out, described China as ‘raping’ the US and even said he could shoot someone and wouldn’t lose votes. And do you know what? He looks as though he’s right. But now that Trump is set to take on Hillary in the race for the White House, surely where fed-up Republican voters lapped up his wild rhetoric, American voters won’t follow? As with everything about this race so far, it’s hard to say. Hillary would seem to be the clear favourite in a head-to-head race with Trump and indeed one of the problems for Trump in a Presidential race is just how effective he would be in broadening out his appeal.
It’s clear that Trump has already got one eye on doing just that, though. Cruz couldn’t even bear to mention Trump’s name in his speech in which he conceded defeat in the Republican race. But Donald – despite having earlier attempted to link Cruz’s dad with the JFK assassination – seemed intent on patching things up. He told an audience:
‘All my life I’ve been in competitions, and I have to tell you I have met some of the most incredible competitors that I have ever competed against right here in the Republican party. Ted Cruz, I don’t know if he likes me, he is one hell of a competitor – he is a tough, smart guy. He has got an amazing future. So I want to congratulate Ted. I know how tough it is, it’s tough. I understand how Ted feels and Heidi and his whole, beautiful family.’
Almost every point made by Trump in this speech – wondering whether Cruz likes him or not, praising his Republican competitors and calling Ted Cruz’s family beautiful after his earlier comments about the Texas senator’s wife – seems laughable. Yet whilst it’s difficult to imagine that anyone can see what Trump said after winning in Indiana as sincere, we’re witnessing the start of his attempt to gravitate towards the centre. Whilst this is a strategy that could, at least in theory, build his support, Trump also has a difficulty in that he can’t be seen as turning his back on those voters who backed him in the Republican race precisely because he was the anti-establishment candidate. Whether the Donald succeeds in treading that tricky balancing act will become clear over the next few weeks and months. But before we rule out Trump, it’s worth casting an eye back to what was said about his campaign when he first launched it in June last year. Under the headline ‘Trump launches Presidential campaign with empty flair’, Time magazine wrote:
‘Trump has always known that the pageantry of a presidential campaign is a near-perfect marketing opportunity…There are about eight billion reasons why Trump won’t be president’
Nine months on, we’re no longer laughing.