Donald Trump set the stage for a brutal battle with Hillary Clinton, claiming she is only in contention for the presidency because she is a woman, as both candidates scored dominant victories in Tuesday night’s primary elections.
The Republican frontrunner attacked Clinton as weak and crooked and warned that she would be a “horrible president” as he sought to frame the fight for the White House.
Speaking at Trump Tower in New York, he said witheringly: “I think the only card she has is the woman’s card. She’s got nothing else going. And frankly, if Hillary Clinton were a man, I don’t think she’d get 5% of the vote. The only thing she’s got going is the woman’s card, and the beautiful thing is women don’t like her, OK?”
Mary Pat Christie, the wife of former Republican candidate Chris Christie, who was standing behind Trump as he mocked Clinton, appeared to roll her eyes. Her seemingly disdainful reaction immediately went viral on social media.
Trump, who less than a year ago had no experience in politics, continued one of the most astounding campaigns of modern times by sweeping five states in the north-east. Clinton, bidding to become America’s first female president, won the contests in Delaware, Connecticut, Maryland and Pennsylvania, with rival Bernie Sanders picking up only Rhode Island, the smallest state in the union.
A Trump versus Clinton general election promises to display an extraordinary clash of styles, pitching the brash billionaire and political novice against a former senator and secretary of state who is married to a former president.
Trump wasted little energy on his Republican rivals, declaring himself “the presumptive nominee” and saying Ted Cruz and John Kasich should get out of the race. Instead, he delivered his most scathing attack yet on the Democratic frontrunner, offering a foretaste of the bitter contest to come.
“I call her crooked Hillary, she’s crooked,” he said. Her husband, President Bill Clinton, signed the North America free trade agreement, he continued, and “it was a disaster for this country”.
Trump added: “She will not be a good president. She does not have the strength or the stamina to deal with China or other things … Hillary will be horrible, absolutely horrible, on economic development. She knows nothing about jobs, apart from jobs for herself.”
She failed to “answer the 3am phone call” on Benghazi and Syria, he went on, and her decision to set up a private email server as secretary of state “was an absolute criminal outrage … I think that Hillary honestly is a flawed candidate and she’s going to be easy to beat.”
Trump boasted: “I’ll do far more for women than Hillary Clinton will ever do, including protecting our country … and she’s had her shot, and she also raised her hand when it came to Iraq, and she shouldn’t have voted.”
Trump’s latest landslide means that Cruz and Kasich have been mathematically eliminated from achieving the 1,237 delegates needed to clinch the nomination before the Republican national convention in Cleveland, Ohio, in July. But both are fighting on in the hope that Trump also falls short of the target, forcing a contested convention, where he could lose out if he has not secured enough delegates to win in a first round of voting.
But the tycoon dismissed such talk, saying that he intends to win on the first ballot and, even if he does not, the delegates will have a moral obligation to support him because his lead is so dominant.
“The best way to beat the system is have evenings like this where you have record-setting votes, record-setting delegates,” he said, likening himself to a boxer landing a knockout punch. “We have millions more votes than Cruz. We have millions more votes than Kasich … It’s over. As far as I’m concerned, it’s over.”
On the Democratic side, meanwhile, Clinton continued her march to the nomination by winning four states out of five, including an overwhelming victory in Maryland.
In a victory speech in Philadelphia, she sought to distinguish herself from Trump by offering an upbeat, optimistic message. She promised to build “an America where we lift each other up instead of tearing each other down”.
In an apparent dig at the Republican frontrunner, she continued: “Despite what other candidates say, we believe in the goodness of our people and the greatness of our nation.”
And in a sign that she will embrace her husband’s legacy during the battle to come, she quoted from his inauguration speech in 1993: “There is nothing wrong with America that cannot be cured by what is right with America.”
She added: “We will build on a strong progressive tradition from Franklin Roosevelt to Barack Obama.”
Clinton also set about the crucial task of unifying the party. “I applaud Senator Sanders and his millions of supporters for challenging us,” she said, citing issues such as money in politics and income inequality.
“Whether you support Senator Sanders or you support me, there’s much more that unites us than divides us … We all agree that wages are too low and inequality is too high. That Wall Street can never again be allowed to threaten Main Street.”
She added: “I know that together, we will get that done. This is how progress gets made. We can be both dreamers and doers.”
The former secretary of state singled out Trump over his claim that she was playing the gender card, drawing upon a common stump speech line to emphasize that she had no qualms about running on the historic nature of her candidacy. “Deal me in,” Clinton exclaimed to rapturous cheers.
Clinton made an appeal not just to Democrats, but also to those in the opposing party who were frustrated with the choice they faced between the likes of Trump and Cruz – both outsiders viewed as equally unpalatable to the Republican establishment.
“If you are a Democrat, an independent or a thoughtful Republican, you know that their approach is not going to build an America where we increase opportunity or decrease inequality,” Clinton said.
With her four victories, Clinton now has the vast majority of the delegates she needs to become the first woman nominated by a major party. However, Sanders has made clear that he has the funding and the determination to fight on all the way to the summer convention in Philadelphia, but his prospects are diminishing by the week.
The Vermont senator was defiant in a speech to supporters in Huntington, West Virginia, saying that some national polls now show him leading Clinton. He also leads Trump by a bigger margin than she does, he added, noting that independent voters have not been able to vote for him in some Democratic primaries.
Among Republicans, attention now turns to Indiana’s primary next week. The Hoosier state has long been considered one of the key battlegrounds for anti-Trump forces, as the statewide winner receives 30 delegates, the biggest single pot of delegates until June.
In attempt to stop Trump, Texas senator Cruz formed a pact with Kasich, in which the Ohio governor, who is currently polling in third place in Indiana, will devote no further resources to the state.
The goal of their pact is to prevent Trump winning a majority of delegates, with the ambition of forcing a second ballot at the convention. At that point, delegates would be free to vote for other candidates and the Kasich campaign calculates that it would pick up the support of a number of Indiana delegates once they are no longer obligated by next week’s primary result.
Speaking before polls closed in the five states voting on Tuesday, Cruz took the stage in the gym where the underdog sports movie Hoosiers was filmed to slam both Trump and Clinton as peas in the establishment pod.
The Texas senator pre-emptively conceded, saying, “Tonight Donald Trump is expected to have a good night,” but expressed his hope that the race was moving on to “more favorable terrain” with the Hoosier State’s primary next week.
Cruz went on to try to tie his top Republican rival to the likely Democratic nominee. He jibed that Clinton might pick Trump as a running mate because they are both New York liberals who agreed on 13 listed policy issues, including that “grown men should use the little girl’s restroom”, a reference to the controversial HB2 measure recently passed in North Carolina, which overturns local laws banning discrimination against transgender individuals.
The Texas senator, though, embraced what he saw as his current role as the underdog in the race, even having his bodyman re-enact a scene from the movie to demonstrate the basket was the same height in Indiana as it was in New York City. This was a reference to a scene where the underdog high school coach, played by Gene Hackman, inspired his team to victory on the eve of a game against a heavily favored opponent.
The wider Republican intrigue as Cruz and Kasich plot to foil Trump is matched by drama within the Trump campaign. As the frontrunner has edged closer to the nomination, the introduction of veteran Washington operative Paul Manafort to his inner circle has triggered a civil war within his camp.
Manafort, who has brought in a number of other seasoned Washington operatives, has pushed Trump to be a more traditional candidate who makes fewer controversial remarks and runs a campaign that features extensive television advertising and polling.
In contrast, longtime campaign manager Corey Lewandowski has pushed to “let Trump be Trump”. The resulting conflict between the two for the Republican frontrunner’s ear has seen Trump schedule a foreign policy speech one day and make fun of how Kasich eats the next. – © Guardian News & Media 2016