Could Donald Trump’s Attacks on Hillary Clinton Help Him Unify Republicans?

Donald Trump speaks during a campaign stop at Old National Events Plaza in Evansville, Ind., on April 28.

By MICHAEL STEEL – – – –

Michael Steel was press secretary to then-House Speaker John Boehner for five years and was press secretary to Paul Ryan in the 2012 presidential campaign. He was a senior adviser on policy and communications to Jeb Bush’s presidential campaign. He is on Twitter: @Michael_Steel.

It didn’t take long for Donald Trump to sink the message his campaign recently floated about an “evolving,” more moderate tone. In his speech Tuesday after his five primary victories, he declared himself the presumptive Republican nominee and focused less on “Lyin’ Ted” Cruz than on the opponent he’s dubbed “Crooked” Hillary Clinton.

His primary-night critique of Mrs. Clinton on domestic policy (“She will be terrible on jobs”), on Benghazi (“When it came to answering the phone at 3 o’clock in the morning, she was sleeping”) and the flap over her use of a private e-mail server while secretary of state (“What she did is a very, very dangerous thing for our country”) was the same message almost any Republican could and would use. That includes virtually all of Mr. Trump’s primary rivals and GOPers on Capitol Hill.

Mr. Trump addressed the issue of his electability by comparing Mrs. Clinton to Republican primary opponents he has bested. “When I am one-on-one with Hillary she will be,” he said, “easier to take down–much easier to beat than the people, many of the people that I have already beat[en].”

Whatever he thinks about his status with the GOP nomination, Mr. Trump has not nailed down the necessary number of delegates, and next week’s contest in Indiana is seen by the “Stop Trump” movement as its next opportunity.

It’s worth noting that throughout the primary process Mr. Trump has ignored the fabled 11th Commandment, “Thou shalt not speak ill of any Republican” (often misattributed to Ronald Reagan). Attacking Democrats, however, is fair game in a GOP contest, and few things have the potential to unify Republicans like opposition to Hillary Clinton.

It’s no surprise that he criticized Mrs. Clinton and President Obama repeatedly in his foreign policy speech on Wednesday. It’s possible that by turning his invective against the Clintons rather than Republicans, Mr. Trump stands to increase his support in the coming primaries, making it harder for Sen. Cruz and Gov. John Kasich to stop him from reaching an outright majority of the delegates before the convention in Cleveland.

Focusing on attacking the Clintons could also make Mr. Trump more palatable to the party stalwarts who have been most offended by his bluster and ideological heterodoxy. The question is whether he has the discipline to stick with it.

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