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Trump campaign to Republican officials: He’ll soften his tone for the general election

The Republican National Committee’s rules committee meets Thursday in Florida, and Donald Trump’s path to the nomination looks smoother than Ted Cruz’s after the New York primary.

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Top Trump aide tells GOP elite they’ll soon see front-runner’s softer side

Top aides to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign made their pitch to the party establishment Thursday evening, telling Republican National Committee members that the GOP front-runner’s brash persona will soften as he nears the general election.

Paul Manafort, the veteran operative who has assumed a leadership role in the Trump campaign, started the briefing with an olive branch to the party elite, saying that Trump was not running against the RNC, despite the businessman’s repeated charges that the GOP establishment is aiming to block his path to the nomination.

Rather, Trump was raising concerns about the transparency of the nomination process, Manafort said. The briefing was captured on an audio recording The Times obtained.

The recording was verified by accounts from people in the room who asked not to be named while sharing details of a private meeting.

The presentation was largely focused on the general election. Manafort said the campaign was aiming to clinch the Republican nomination at the close of the primary season, avoiding a convention battle with rivals Ted Cruz and John Kasich.

“We don’t want a fractured convention,” he said. “We want to put this thing to bed early.”

Manafort acknowledged that Trump, as an outsider candidate, remains somewhat of a mysterious figure to RNC insiders. He said that when Trump is in more private settings, he has “a different persona.”

“When he’s out on the stage...he’s projecting an image that’s for that purpose,” Manafort said. “The two, you’ll start to see, come together over the next couple months.”

He devoted a significant portion of his remarks to addressing opinion polls that show Trump’s high degree of unpopularity with the general electorate.

He noted that Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton also has high negatives, and he drew a distinction between the two candidates. Trump’s negatives, he said, were due to how people perceived his personality, while Clinton’s were rooted in her character, which people don’t find trustworthy.

“Fixing personality negatives is a lot easier than fixing a person’s character,” Manafort said. “You can’t change a person’s character but you can change the way a person presents themselves.”

Manafort assured the crowd that Trump is attuned to the different tone he’ll need to take in a general election.

“He gets it. The part he’s been playing is evolving,” Manafort said, adding, “the negatives are going to come down, the image is going to change -- and she is still going to be ‘Crooked Clinton.’”

Manafort also said Trump expects to take on more conventional fundraising by helping the RNC raise money.

That’s a departure from Trump’s usual stance on campaign finance. He often argues that his personal wealth enables him to not be beholden to special interests.

But raising money is a major priority for the party to fund congressional and other downballot races.

Manafort was joined by Rick Wiley, another relative newcomer to the Trump team who used to work as political director to the RNC, and Ben Carson, Trump’s former rival who endorsed the billionaire last month.

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Donald Trump starts shift toward November clash with Hillary Clinton

Amid all the uncertainty over whether Republicans will nominate Donald Trump for president, the GOP front-runner is pivoting more and more overtly to a presumed general election contest against Democrat Hillary Clinton.

In both tone and substance, the shift was clear in Trump’s appearance Thursday morning on NBC’s “Today” show before a town hall audience on the plaza of Rockefeller Center in Manhattan.

Trump’s hard line on illegal immigration has been one of his strongest appeals to Republicans in the party nomination race. But when a Long Island woman in the crowd asked how he would handle her relatives who have lived in the U.S. illegally for 25 years, Trump played down his plan to deport millions of such immigrants.

“I’m sure these are very, very fine people,” Trump said, a stark contrast to his earlier denunciations of Mexican immigrants as rapists and drug dealers. “They’re going to go, and we’re going to create a path where we can get them into this country legally, OK?”

It was only last month that Trump vowed in a radio interview to set up a system for Americans to report neighbors they suspect of living in the country illegally.

“They’re going to report them, and we’re going to come and take care of the situation, because that’s the only way we’re going to find out where they are,” Trump told radio host Jamiel Shaw, a Trump supporter whose son was killed in Los Angeles by an immigrant in the U.S. illegally.

On taxes, too, Trump appeared to change his stance Thursday in a way that could carry more appeal to the broader November electorate. Asked whether he believes in raising taxes on the wealthy, Trump responded, “I do. Including myself.”

But in September, when Trump was competing with several GOP rivals pledging huge tax cuts, the New York businessman proposed lowering the top personal income tax bracket from 39.6% to 25%, a windfall for the wealthy.

The ideological calibration comes as Trump, a master of the crushing insult, is trying to soften his public image. Lined up on stools beside him on the “Today” stage were his wife, Melania Trump, and four of his children, who paid elaborate tribute to his personal qualities, just as they did in a similar event last week on CNN.

Trump has also turned to the paramount general election task of defining Clinton on his own terms, captured by a new nickname, “Crooked Hillary,” that can keep his message focused on trust and ethics.

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Lots of scrutiny but little news out of RNC rules meeting

For members of a Republican Party establishment that finds itself under attack from Donald Trump for running a “rigged” nominating system, the unsaid theme of their Florida confab this week is the old truism: No news is good news.

That was the result of Thursday’s RNC rules committee meeting, an arcane affair that usually attracts scant public attention. In this fraught primary campaign, though, the meeting took on outsized significance as a test of whether the party could serve as an impartial referee in the nomination battle.

The 56-member committee rebuffed all the proposed rule changes before it, including one dealing with the parliamentary guidelines governing the convention. Many members said they were afraid that taking any action at all would hurt their credibility.

“We’re basically in the seventh inning of the ballgame and I don’t think it’s right to change the rules in the middle of the game,” said Randy Evans, an RNC committee member from Georgia.

Evans cautioned that, in light of the charged political environment, “any change that we make will be viewed with a large degree of cynicism.”

The committee had no authority to actually change the convention rules at all; rather, it merely would have suggested changes to the convention rules committee, a separate body that determines the rules for this July’s nominating gathering in Cleveland.

The meeting adjourned without any amendments being proposed to the existing convention rules.

The parliamentary wonkery was only part of the action as the 168 RNC members gathered in South Florida for a three-day meeting.

Operatives for the three remaining GOP candidates -- Trump, Ted Cruz and John Kasich -- have been working the crowd, trying to convince members, who will also serve as convention delegates, of their viability.

Cruz and Kasich made appearances themselves Wednesday afternoon. Cruz gave an in-depth, poll-heavy presentation to members on why he was best positioned to compete in the general election.

“It was a detailed presentation -- very granular,” said Harmeet Dhillon, vice chair of the California Republican Party.

Trump’s top operatives, along with Dr. Ben Carson, a surrogate for the real estate developer, will be holding their own briefing late Thursday afternoon Thursday.

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We took 10 bottles of hot sauce to Pok Pok. Thank you, Hillary Clinton

Like Beyoncé, we now know, Hillary Clinton has hot sauce in her bag. She said so on New York’s Power 105.1, so it must be true.

Still, Donald Trump doesn’t believe her, neither do Rush Limbaugh, Laura Ingraham or many of Fox News’ talking heads. Even Power 105.1 host Charlamagne Tha God kind of accused her of pandering.

Is she pandering? I think she just likes hot sauce — and not just because she’s on record as a chile head in interviews going back at least to 2008.

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Clinton campaigns at somber gun roundtable in Connecticut

The panel at Hillary Clinton’s gun-control event Thursday was grim — one woman lost her 6-year-old daughter in the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School; a man’s brother was murdered by his former gang; another woman’s 20-year-old son was shot in the back as he defended his girlfriend’s honor.

Clinton used the roundtable to highlight how her record on gun control differed from that of her rival, Sen. Bernie Sanders.

On Thursday, the Democratic front-runner noted she voted against a law that gave gun manufacturers and sellers broad legal immunity, a measure that Sanders supported and became law.

“What that has done is to basically prevent anyone like the families from Sandy Hook, like the families from the Aurora movie theater murders from trying to inject some common sense requirements that people who make and sell guns be held to,” Clinton said.

Several family members of the 20 children and six adults killed at Sandy Hook have sued the maker of the AR-15 that was used in the attack, arguing that Remington Arms was effectively marketing a military-grade killing machine to the general public. Remington sought to get the suit tossed from court because of the immunity law; a state judge last week ruled that the case could move forward.

The roundtable didn’t have the feel of a presidential campaign event, though Connecticut and four other states will hold primaries in less than a week. The peppy pop music usually played at Clinton’s gatherings was replaced by somber acoustics and dulcet tones.

Clinton did more listening than talking during the 90-minute campaign stop.

Erica Smegielski said she started advocating for new gun restrictions after her mother, the principal of Sandy Hook Elementary School, was killed. Her motivation, she said, is broader now.

“The reality is my mom was murdered, and she is not coming back no matter how hard I fight,” said Smegielski, who appears in Clinton television ads airing in Connecticut and Rhode Island. “What I can do is stand up, use my voice, use my story to motivate other people.”

Smegielski and other speakers noted that while mass shootings garner the most attention, many more people are killed in smaller incidents of gun violence.

“What we need to focus on is the everyday gun violence that plagues our cities and plagues our streets and plagues our towns,” she said. “We need to find a way to stop that.”

Clinton listed gun-control measures she supported, such as comprehensive background checks and closing loopholes that make it easier to buy guns, but said the problem required broader societal change, such as improving mental health services, reducing the disparity in schools, helping at-risk children avoid gangs and helping young people who have made mistakes but are trying to straighten out their lives.

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‘This isn’t kumbaya time,’ says one Bernie Sanders supporter, as pressure mounts for a calmer Democratic primary

In the wake of Hillary Clinton’s expansive win in the New York primary, both she and challenger Bernie Sanders face a freighted decision: whether, and how, to pull back on rhetoric that has grown sharper and nastier in recent weeks as they battle for the Democratic nomination.

The choices, whether to lay down arms or continue strafing, would seem to be simple. But the stakes are so high that the strategic imperatives are complicated.

Both candidates are seeking delegates in Pennsylvania and in four other states Tuesday. But neither wants to risk alienating voters by coming off as too negative. Both candidates — particularly Clinton, the leader in delegates with a far better shot at the nomination — are looking at the difficulties inherent in unifying a fractured party in November.

Part of the dilemma is that each blames the other for escalating the negativity in recent weeks — and thus each is waiting for the other to take the first step to change the tone.

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Sanders campaign spends $45.7 million in March

Bernie Sanders’ campaign spent $45.7 million during the month of March, about double what rival Hillary Clinton spent, according to Federal Election Commission reports released Wednesday.

The Vermont senator won primaries in Michigan and elsewhere in the month, with a sweep of Alaska, Hawaii and Washington state over one weekend. But Clinton still bested him in bigger states with more delegates at stake, including Georgia, Texas and Florida, helping build her delegate lead in the Democratic race.

Though he raised about $46 million to offset his costs, Sanders spent more than a third of his total campaign spending as of February — $122.6 million.

“Bernie’s grass-roots campaign has now out-raised Secretary Hillary Clinton for three months straight,” Sanders’ campaign manager Jeff Weaver said in a statement.

Clinton’s campaign spent $28.7 million in March and raised $26.8 million.

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Put Harriet Tubman on the $2 bill instead, Ben Carson says

Ben Carson offered a compromise for people upset Wednesday by the decision to put Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill — put her on the $2 bill.

The U.S. Treasury last issued a $2 bill in 2003, though. Carson, a former GOP presidential candidate and supporter of Donald Trump, argued that President Andrew Jackson deserves to stay on the $20 because he balanced the federal budget.

“Andrew Jackson was ... a tremendous president,” Carson said on Fox Business Network’s “Cavuto Coast to Coast” on Wednesday.

Carson insisted that he does not dislike Tubman, an African American Civil War-era abolitionist and conductor on the Underground Railroad. But he disagrees with replacing Jackson.

“I love Harriet Tubman,” Carson said. “I love what she did. But we can find another way to honor her. Maybe, uh, maybe, a $2 bill.”

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Obscure GOP party meeting in limelight as turbulent convention looms

A palm-tree-studded Florida beach resort is the unlikely new arena this week for the contentious GOP presidential race.

The heart of the party’s establishment — members of the Republican National Committee — is convening here for the group’s quarterly meeting, a typically cloistered affair. But in this unruly primary season, even the most insider of gatherings has been propelled into the public eye.

“There’s never been as much personal scrutiny by reporters and our constituents in any of our experiences,” said Shawn Steel, a national committee member from California.

The three-day gathering’s main event is a meeting Thursday of the RNC’s 56-member rules committee, which helps shape the guidelines governing this summer’s nominating convention in Cleveland. The arcane rules have assumed an outsized significance with the prospect of a contested convention.

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Virginia voter, struggling to make ends meet, finds a voice with take-charge Donald Trump

Peggy Hayes is professionally upbeat. A personal trainer, she teases clients about the pain that awaits them and hands out calling cards that read: “Clear your mind of can’t.”

Yet beneath her motivational smile lies something much less confident, and it’s had a deep impact on her political views.

Lately, so many prospective clients have been canceling their training sessions that the owner of a gym where she works has started calling her “Bad Luck Peggy.”

Hayes, 53, offers free consultations and shows clients how to make protein shakes with egg whites instead of expensive powder. For those who can’t afford her, she is sympathetic: She herself doesn’t have the money for health insurance.

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Road to GOP nomination looks smoother for Trump, but there are bumps ahead

Widening his delegate lead, Donald Trump has taken a significant stride toward clinching the Republican presidential nomination and avoiding a knockdown fight at the party’s summer convention. But the contest is far from settled.

Trump’s landslide win in Tuesday’s New York primary snagged him at least 89 delegates, pushing his total to 845 of the 1,237 needed to secure the GOP nomination. His nearest rival, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, was shut out and trails the Manhattan real estate mogul by nearly 300 delegates.

With seven weeks left in the primary season, Trump must capture about 55% to 60% of the remaining delegates for a first-ballot victory at the convention in Cleveland — a formidable but not impossible task.

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