GREENSBORO, N.C. (AP) – In the days since a gunman killed 49 people at a nightclub in Florida, there’s been no sign of the measured Donald Trump who politely celebrated on the final night of the Republican primary season.
In his place: the raw, vintage Trump that stormed to victory in those elections to claim his place as the presumptive GOP presidential nominee.
“We cannot continue to be politically correct. We cannot continue with this,” Trump said Tuesday night in North Carolina at his first campaign rally since Sunday’s attack, a speech he punctuated with falsehoods, exaggerations and a racially-charged insult. “What’s happening to our country is devastating, folks, it’s devastating. And it’s embarrassing. And our lives will never be the same.”
It was only a week ago that Republicans leery of Trump’s candidacy were cheering the billionaire’s performance on the night of the final GOP primaries. In a calm speech read from a teleprompter at his golf club north of New York City, Trump sought to softly pivot to his general election contest with presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
“You’ve given me the honor to lead the Republican Party to victory this fall,” he said, adding: “I understand the responsibility of carrying the mantle and I will never, ever let you down. … I will make you proud of your party and our movement, and that’s what it is, is a movement.”
It was a notable moment for a candidate who has consistently resisted efforts to moderate his brash, confrontational style. Trump’s campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, has repeatedly said he believes “Letting Trump be Trump” is the key to the campaign’s success.
“I think Mr. Trump speaks for Mr. Trump. He makes every major decision in this campaign,” Lewandowski said in a recent interview. “He speaks the way he does in very plain words, in very plain English, and he gets his message across.”
Within 36 hours of that well-received election night speech, Trump was back to claiming that Clinton “hates” Obama and repeatedly calling Sen. Elizabeth Warren by the nickname “Pocahontas” – a derisive reference to the debate over whether the Massachusetts Democratic can claim a small amount of Native American ancestry.
Then came Orlando.
Early Sunday morning, as news of the shooting spread, Trump wrote on Twitter: “Appreciate the congrats for being right on radical Islamic terrorism, I don’t want congrats, I want toughness & vigilance. We must be smart!” While the post drew criticism, Trump has said he received “tens of thousands” of notes praising his foresight.
Later in the day, he said Obama should resign unless he is willing to starting saying the words “radical Islam.” Clinton should drop out of the presidential race, he added, unless she does, too.
On Monday, Trump suggested in a television interview that Obama may not be taking tougher action against terrorism because he may sympathize with the perpetrators. “He doesn’t get it or, or he gets it better than anybody understands,” he said on Fox News Channel. “It’s one or the other. And either one is unacceptable.”
In a speech a few hours later, he reiterated his call for a temporary ban on Muslims coming to the U.S. and said that as president he would “suspend immigration from areas of the world where there’s a proven history of terrorism against the United States, Europe and our allies.”
That speech included a series of attacks on Clinton, including the false allegation that she “wants to allow radical Islamic terrorists to pour into our country.” He ended the day by announcing he would no longer credential reporters from The Washington Post to cover his campaign events.
Trump’s actions since the shooting earned a blistering critique on Tuesday from Clinton, who said America doesn’t “need conspiracy theories and pathological self-congratulations” from its candidates for president. Speaking at the same time, Obama called Trump’s proposals a threat to American security.
“Where does this stop?” Obama said. “Are we going to start treating all Muslim-Americans differently? Are we going to start subjecting them to special surveillance? Are we going to start discriminating against them because of their faith? … Do Republican officials actually agree with this?”
For some, the answer was plainly no.
House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the highest-ranking elected GOP official, emphasized his opposition, saying he did not think Trump’s proposals were “in our country’s interest” or “reflective of our principles not just as a party, but as a country.”
GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina denounced Trump’s comments about Obama as “highly offensive.” GOP Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois said Trump’s comments could be used to radicalize Muslims.
“I guess I appreciate Mr. Trump’s fieriness in talking about it, and strength, but you don’t do it by alienating the very people we need and those are moderate Muslims,” Kinzinger said. “To use religion as a test, to say we’re going to discriminate against all Muslims, is so counterproductive it really almost doesn’t deserve being talked about.”
But an unbowed Trump refused to back down.
In both a statement issued in reply to Obama’s speech, and at his fiery rally hours later in North Carolina, Trump again suggested the president’s loyalties are misplaced. Obama, he said, was more upset at how Trump had responded to the attacks than about the massacre itself.
Said Trump, “That’s the kind of anger he should have for the shooter and these killers that shouldn’t be here.”