ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
For Republicans, it's been a tough week even though they know who their presidential nominee will be. Party leaders have been harshly critical their pick, Donald Trump, after he made racially charged remarks. But Trump continued to pick up votes yesterday. Here's how he addressed supporters last night.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
DONALD TRUMP: You've given me the honor to lead the Republican Party to victory this fall.
TRUMP: We're going to do it. We're going to do it, folks. We're going to do it. I understand the responsibility of carrying the mantle, and I will never, ever let you down - too much work, too many people, blood, sweat and tears - never going to let you down.
SHAPIRO: This seemed to be the much-promised and long-delayed pivot to acting presidential. NPR's Mara Liasson is back with us to talk about all of this. Hi, Mara.
MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Hi, Ari.
SHAPIRO: What did Trump accomplish in this very-unusual-for-him speech last night?
LIASSON: He pulled the GOP off the ledge. I think Republican leaders were really almost panicking. They were tearing their hair out. They felt he was digging himself deeper in every day with these comments - racially charged comments about the judge. Last night he gave a speech from a teleprompter. It was very scripted, and as you just heard, at times it sounded like he was in a hostage video. It was very flat, un-Trumpian (ph). It had a lot of boilerplate in it like, quote, "this election isn't about Republicans or Democrats. It's about who runs this country - the special interests or the people."
But it also sounded like he really heard what Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, was saying to him early in the day. Stop talking about extraneous stuff, and get back on message. And last night he did. Republicans I've talked to today say that the speech showed the first thing to do when you're in a hole is to stop digging, and he did that.
But they're still worried that he's an undisciplined candidate who's having a hard time making the transition to the general election. One Republican said Trump has nine lives, and he's used up four of them. And as Mitch McConnell said after he read Trump the riot act yesterday - he said, we're all anxious to hear what he'll say next.
So that's a - about as sardonic as McConnell gets, but what he's saying is Trump is unpredictable, and despite his best behavior last night, no Republicans are really confident about what he will do next.
SHAPIRO: If Trump's marching orders were get on message, what was that message?
LIASSON: He was back on his message, and he actually went through a pretty structured, coherent argument. He said, I want to tell you what my slogan America first means. He said what it means for taxes, jobs, trade, economic policy, and on foreign policy, he said it means we'll never enter into any conflict unless it makes us safer as a nation.
This is the opposite of Hillary's foreign policy which invaded Libya, destabilize Iraq, made Iran more powerful. So that, he has an argument to make. It's just for the last five weeks, he hasn't been making it.
SHAPIRO: OK, yesterday you were sitting in the same chair and said, around age 70, people are unlikely to dramatically change. Last night we saw dramatically different Trump. So what's he going to do next?
SHAPIRO: Old Trump, new Trump?
LIASSON: He told us last night that next week, maybe Monday, he is going to do what many conservatives have been wanting a Republican nominee to do for years, which is to unload with both barrels on the Clintons. And he said he's going to give a speech possibly Monday, quote, "about all the things that have taken place with the Clintons."
Presumably he'll be talking about the Clinton-era scandals. We know he's had lunch with Ed Klein, who's kind of the chief Clinton conspiracy theorist out there. There are some conspiracy theories that Trump has talked about. He said Vince Foster was murdered. He talked about other things that Hillary has done that are legal. Some of them might have evidence. Some of them might not.
But he also has a legitimate case to make about Clinton's record on the economy, in the world, and I expect him to make that too. The big question is, in a primary, he wasn't - he was rarely held accountable for any of the attacks he made. In a general election, the spotlight is harsher, and we'll see if he's judged by a different standard.
SHAPIRO: And the controversy about whether Trump is racist - doesn't seem like that can just evaporate with one speech.
LIASSON: No. It's very hard to Etch A Sketch that away. Paul Ryan's remarks, which were that Trump's comments were textbook racist, was - were unprecedented and extraordinary. We expect we'll see those - Ryan's comments in ads from the Democrats this fall, but we don't know what damage those remarks did to Trump and the Republicans until we get some poll results back this weekend or Monday.
SHAPIRO: Thanks. That's NPR's Mara Liasson.
LIASSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.