The ballroom setup was the first sign that Donald Trump’s Tuesday night press conference would not actually be a press conference.
At the front of the Donald J. Trump Ballroom at the Mar-a-Lago Club was a stage decorated with 10 crisp flags and backlit in red and blue, giving the Versailles-style room a night-club look. At the back was a work space for the few hundred reporters who had traveled to Trump’s private, waterfront club to ask him questions. Separating the two: 16 rows of more than 500 seats for dues-paying club members and friends, dressed in Palm Beach finery for the see-and-be-seen party of the night.
Reporters studied the setup, wondering if it would even be possible to shout questions over all of those heads and still be heard by the man on the stage.
Trump took the stage Tuesday night with one of his sons and his daughter-in-law, along with many of his top campaign staffers, who were smiling widely and laughing. He celebrated wins in Florida, Illinois and North Carolina, while still waiting on results from Missouri. He thanked his family, forgetting to name one of the five, an oversight later corrected with a tweet. He congratulated Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., who dropped out of the race earlier in the evening, for “having run a really tough campaign” and having “a great future.” And he recognized the Republican Party leadership that is slowly coming to terms with his success.
“We’ve had such incredible support — Paul Ryan called me the other day, tremendous call. I spoke with Mitch McConnell today, we had a great conversation,” Trump said. “The fact is we have to bring our party together. We have to bring it together … We have something happening that actually makes the Republican Party probably the biggest political story anywhere in the world. Everybody’s writing about it, all over Europe. All over the world, they’re talking about it. Millions of people are coming in to vote.”
Trump said that he plans to make “a lot of trips over the next month” to states with upcoming primaries, but he acted like a presumed nominee instead of a candidate still battling for his party’s approval.
“We had a fantastic evening,” Trump said at one point, marveling at his wins. “I would have never thought this could have happened.”
After speaking for about 15 minutes, Trump threw some insults at the journalists sitting far away from him, beyond all of the well-dressed supporters who laughed at his jokes and applauded him again and again.
“Disgusting reporters,” Trump said, as his guests laughed. “Horrible people. Some are nice. Some are nice. Some really disgusting people back there. And I just want to say: We’re going to go forward, and we’re going to win. But more importantly we’re going to win for the country, we’re going to win, win, win, and we’re not stopping. We’re going to have great victories for our country. Thank you very much, everybody.”
And that was it, the press conference was over without a single question being asked. Reporters started shouting — “Mr. Trump! Mr. Trump!” — hoping the candidate would stop by for a few questions.
The shouting continued as Trump walked through the swarm of his adoring, dues-paying club members.
“Five minutes!” one reporter yelled. Another shouted: “This is supposed to be a press conference, are you going to speak to us?”
Trump walked out of the Donald J. Trump Ballroom without answering.
(c) 2016, The Washington Post · Jenna Johnson · Washington Post photo by Jabin Botsford