RICHMOND, Va.—You could tell how much the effort to control himself pained Donald Trump.
He was trying to do what the consultants and D.C. stiffs had told him to do: stick to the script. But his whole being practically strained against the restriction.
He had to tell them—had to let the crowd that had come to see him Friday night in Richmond, at his first rally since the primaries concluded, in on the joke. They had to know what he was working so hard not to say. For example: General-election Trump, New and Improved Trump, Kinder Gentler Trump, Presidential-edition Trump, Censored, Sanitized Trump would never, never use the word “screwed.”
“We are being taken advantage of,” he said from his lectern on the floor of the downtown coliseum. “Usually I would have used a different word”—a word beginning with “S.” But his critics would “go crazy,” so he was minding his manners. “So instead of using that word, that our country’s been—with an ‘S,’ right? I won’t say it!—our country is being taken advantage of.”
The implication was obvious: Facing a brand-new Republican-establishment freakout—approximately the 3,486th such spasm over the past year—Trump was trying to clean up his act.
The past week had been perhaps the roughest yet for Trump. Republicans, even those nominally supporting him, had widely decried his race-based attacks on a Mexican American judge. Senators had withdrawn their endorsements; House Speaker Paul Ryan had called the comments “racist.” It had dawned on these normally restrained politicians that Trump didn’t owe them anything, so they didn’t have to pretend they owed him anything, either.