SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Donald Trump is over this primary.
On the eve of Indiana’s vote, with polls showing him well ahead of Ted Cruz, Trump spent his final day of campaigning here looking ahead to November — touting general election polling, lunching with a prominent Clinton gadfly, and making the case that the Republican nominating contest is all but over.
A Wall Street Journal/NBC poll released on Sunday showed Trump up 15 points over Cruz, 49 percent to 34 percent here, and a win for the businessman on Tuesday, following two weeks of strong showings across the Northeast, would bolster his case that he is the presumptive Republican nominee. Already, Trump appears ready to move beyond the primary and begin contesting the general election.
“The people of Indiana are going to put me over the top and we can focus on Hillary Clinton,” Trump told supporters at the Century Center here Monday evening, moving past Cruz and John Kasich.
At a stop earlier in the day, in Carmel, Trump ran out of ways to make the point. “If we win Indiana it’s over. It’s over. They’re finished. They’re finished. They’re gone,” he said. “They have no path, whereas I have a very easy path.”
Before his Carmel stop, Trump ate lunch in Indianapolis with Ed Klein, the author of books that repeat salacious allegations against Bill and Hillary Clinton.
At both rallies, Trump made his general election case against Hillary Clinton.
In South Bend, Trump said Clinton wants to run again Cruz because he is a “cookie-cutter” Republican who would make Barry Goldwater’s disastrous 1964 loss to Lyndon B. Johnson look like a success. Speaking in the third person, the businessman made the case that he would make a slipperier opponent for the former secretary of state. “With Trump, they don’t know where it’s going to come from,” he said. “I’m going to win New York. Good chance.” (Clinton leads Trump by 21 points in the RealClearPolitics average of New York polls.)
Trump also addressed one of his biggest general election liabilities: His terrible standing among female voters, who in Clinton could have the chance to vote for the first female president. “Women are looking for security in our country and they know I’m going to do the best job,” he said, pivoting to attack Clinton’s record in that arena. “When they called her on Benghazi she was sleeping, folks.”
Earlier in the day in Carmel, Trump seized on Bernie Sanders’ contention that Clinton isn’t “qualified” to be president. “Bad judgment. I didn’t say it,” Trump said. “A lot of people said it. … It was said by Bernie. But I can’t take any any heat if it was said by Bernie”
At both stops, Trump touted an outlier poll from Rasmussen Reports that showed him leading Clinton by 2 points nationally in a general election matchup as well as the WSJ/NBC poll released Sunday, which showed Trump leading Clinton 48 to 41 percent in Indiana. (Mitt Romney beat Barack Obama by 10 points here in 2012.)
In addition to polling, Trump — who rolled out an endorsement from Bob Knight last week — also touted his strong support among the state’s retired athletes and coaches.
In Carmel, Trump was introduced by former American Football League defensive back Fred “The Hammer” Williamson, a native of Gary, and former Purdue University basketball coach Gene Keady,
Keady also spoke briefly in South Bend, where he was followed by former Notre Dame basketball coach Digger Phelps.
Mid-rally in South Bend, Trump added a former Notre Dame football coach to the rolls.
“Lou Holtz just called in and Lou Holtz just endorsed us,” he said, eliciting cheers. “We have everybody.”
In Carmel, Trump, who normally finds himself countering accusations that he is short-fingered, instead sought to assuage concerns that he would have a quick trigger-finger and launch the United States into armed conflicts.
“He may have a quick finger,” Trump said pundits have worried. But he assured supporters, “I’ll have the slowest finger you can imagine.”
Trump also ridiculed a Sunday incident in which Carly Fiorina fell off a stage at a campaign rally in Lafayette. “And Cruz didn’t do anything. Even I would’ve helped her, OK? No, it’s true. It’s the weirdest thing,” Trump said. “They showed it to me and I said, ‘Wow that’s really cruel.’”
For the Trump campaign, Cruz’s presidential ambitions have shrunk, in a matter of weeks, from existential threat to punch line.
Last Tuesday, as polls were closing on Trump’s bigger-than-expected blowouts across the Northeast, Cruz stood in a gymnasium in Indiana and made the mock announcement that Clinton would be naming Trump as her running mate.
Since then, Trump has derided Cruz for naming Fiorina his running mate even as the Texas senator’s path to the nomination grows perilously narrow. And on Monday in South Bend, Trump’s aide Stephen Miller paid back Cruz with a mock announcement of his own: “I’m told this evening Ted Cruz will be announcing his Cabinet when he becomes the king of England.”