- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump used a teleprompter yet again this week — and managed to stay on script, raising hopes among Republicans that if he can control himself, and deliver a crisper message, he may be OK.

A week of off-the-cuff comments about a federal judge had landed Mr. Trump in hot water, so his staid speech Tuesday night, as he closed out the primary season with a series of final victories, seemed to signal he knew his outsized personality was wearing thin.

And while Mr. Trump may find it boring, other Republican candidates are hoping for a few low-drama appearances as they struggle with how closely to embrace the brash billionaire businessman.

“Republicans on the ballot are all craving for someone who is more disciplined when they talk and the teleprompter certainly brings that to the candidate,” said Neil Levesque, executive director of the New Hampshire Institute of Politics and Political Library at Saint Anselm College. “It keeps him on message.”

Having survived an impressive field of 16 other GOP hopefuls, Mr. Trump has been pondering how to approach the general election, where voters are looking for fewer red-meat attacks and more signs a candidate can work with others to get things done.

In his speech Mr. Trump said he gets that, and he gets the fear he’s spawned among other Republicans that his mouth will cost them all in November.

“I understand the responsibility of carrying the mantle and I will never ever let you down,” Mr. Trump said. “I will make you proud of your party and our movement.”

The Trump campaign downplayed his decision to resort to prepared remarks Tuesday, saying it’s not the first time, and it won’t supersede his personality-driven rallies.

“Mr. Trump is an extremely effective communicator, whether he is speaking unscripted to a crowd of 30,000 people or delivering a prepared speech, his message is the same: Make America Great Again,” said Hope Hicks, a Trump spokesperson.

His previous forays into teleprompter-land have all been policy-driven: his speech at the 2016 American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference and his prepared remarks at press conferences where he outlined his thinking on energy and foreign affairs.

This week, however, wasn’t about policy but about staying away from the kinds of landmines he’s been stepping in recently — chiefly his criticism of the judge hearing a lawsuit over Trump University, whom Mr. Trump has accused of bias, citing his Mexican ancestry.

House Speaker Paul D. Ryan said the comments were “racist,” and one Republican U.S. senator running for re-election this year renounced his support for Mr. Trump. Others are keeping him at arm’s length.

Ari Fleischer, former White House press secretary under President George W. Bush, said Mr. Trump faces a new challenge in the general election.

“During primary he would say or do outrageous things, and then prevail in primary and that would help him get beyond that controversy,” Mr. Fleischer said. “That is over . Every controversy is going to last much longer than he is used to because the next testing moment is November.”

Mr. Fleischer said that provides an interesting contrast with presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, who has had trouble connecting with voters.

“The shape of this race is that Donald Trump needs to become more disciplined and more scripted and Hillary Clinton needs to become less disciplined and less scripted,” he said.

Mrs. Clinton has not held a press conference since the primary season began in February, while Mr. Trump has repeatedly taken questions, bantering with reporters even as he calls them dishonest.

Mr. Trump is hoping his more open approach pays off.

“We should have non-teleprompter speeches only when you’re running for president,” he said in a speech to the National Rifle Association last month.

He also dinged President Obama, whose reliance on teleprompters became a point of ridicule.

“You never get yourself in trouble when you use a teleprompter,” Mr. Trump said. “It’s too easy.”

Mr. McConnell, Kentucky Republican, recently recalled asking Mr. Trump backstage at the NRA meeting whether he would be reading from a prepared script.

“He said, ‘I hate the script. It is boring,’” Mr. McConnell said this week.

Boring or not, Mr. McConnell and other Republicans on Capitol Hill are urging Mr. Trump to pivot into a more scripted routine as he turns his attention to the general election showdown with Mrs. Clinton.

“I think it is time for him to look like a serious candidate for president, which means you need to think before you speak,” Mr. McConnell said. “You need to apologize when you make a mistake and get on script.”

Mr. Trump has not apologized for his comments about the judge, but did insist he’s been “misconstrued.” In his speech Tuesday night, he focused on attacking Mrs. Clinton instead of the judge.

Reince Preibus, the head of the Republican National Committee, applauded the stylistic shift, describing Mr. Trump’s election night speech as “great.”

“Exactly the right approach and perfectly delivered,” he said via Twitter.

Others, though, continued to withhold their support.

“We like parts of Donald Trump’s message, but he does need to act more presidential and he needs to transition to a general election approach,” Sen. Susan Collins, Maine Republican, said on CNN.

Sen. Dan Sullivan, Alaska Republican, said Mr. Trump has an opportunity to get past the self-inflicted wounds by focusing on the issues that matter to voters.

“Where he is disciplined and lays out his views, he is going to get the majority of the American people to agree with him over her, and that’s what he needs to do,” he said.

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