In a week of tragedy across the US, anticipated inflammatory remarks from Donald Trump have been replaced with an unusual restraint. Is this a new Donald Trump?
It’s been a quite week for Donald Trump. He hasn’t caused his typical outrage, hasn’t tweeted (or retweeted) anything obscene, hasn’t ranted or railed against some supposedly homogenous group in society…in fact, he hasn’t been very “Trumpian” at all.
Has the Don left behind the kind of inflammatory rhetoric that served him so well in the Republican primaries in favour of a more subdued and “presidential” tone?
Certainly, there have been structural changes to the Trump campaign. On June 20th, he fired his campaign manager Corey Lewandowski – the man charged, then later cleared of assaulting a reporter at one of his campaign events. This left the far more experienced Paul Manafort as the principal third-party adviser to the Trump campaign. There are rumours that Donald is being shielded from interview requests and that family members are implementing tighter control over his handheld devices.
It’s quite possible that Lewandowski’s “let Trump be Trump” philosophy has given way to a closer “handling” of the Republican nominee.
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Here is my interpretation: Donald Trump is a highly narcissistic, type-A personality that has succeeded in life without the help, approval, sanction or advice of anyone else. He has bullied, negotiated, wrestled, and fought his way to the top – despite overwhelming opposition. This has made him more pig-headed, selfish, arrogant and determined – and the last person likely to take political advice from anyone. Combine that with the fact that he doesn’t allow contrary voices into his inner circle and you have a candidate that’s near impossible to “steer” in any particular direction.
Trump reads all his own press, fights all his own battles, takes everything personally and is easily distracted by insignificant slights that a normal person wouldn’t even notice.
Having said all of that, don’t be fooled for one moment into thinking the guy is an idiot. He’s not. He’s extremely savvy and modulates his delivery style to suit his audience. When you see snippets of Trump talking at a rally and think to yourself, “my God, this guy’s a moron”, be a bit careful with that. Trump is lowering his speech to the level of the audience. You heard him speak to working class people in Pennsylvania or South Carolina. The words he chose and the manner of delivery were extremely purposeful.
Trump may indeed be following the strategy advocated by the world’s most infamous demagogue:
“The mass meeting, the only way to exert a truly effective (because personal) influence on large sections of the people and thus possibly to win them…”
The benefit of the “mass meeting” is to overcome, “the bad impression transmitted by the press.” Trump will never stop doing rallies. And the style of these rallies will remain unchanged. The main reason we haven’t heard any insane and inflammatory remarks recently is that Trump hasn’t done a rally since Cincinnati Ohio on July 6th. Fear not, there’ll be more. Donald believes that the rally is an essential way of generating the visceral enthusiasm that propels his “movement”.
Has Trump made a general election pivot? Yes and no. Next time a terrorist incident can be linked to “radical Islam”, Trump will be punching the air and inflaming passions about the “other”.
The next question is why Trump hasn’t made more of the racial chaos surrounding the death of two black men by police, and the gunning down of twelve officers in Dallas, Texas this week. He hasn’t done a press conference. No cable news interviews, no speeches, nothing. In fact, he cancelled the Miami rally he had planned. It doesn’t seem very presidential. It doesn’t smack of leadership.
I have two theories on this. The first: he’s learning. Slowly. Trump may have realised that jumping into the fray doesn’t always work for him. He may have taken the view that it’s better to let this play out. In truth, Trump doesn’t need to do anything for this situation to benefit him politically. Just by standing back and watching, he wins. If he jumps in and says something stupid, he might lose. He wins by doing nothing because it’s clear he’s supported the police in the past, and many police groups have endorsed him. On the other hand, both Obama and Hillary Clinton have courted the Black Lives Matter movement. The more tension caused between police and BLM, the more the Democrats appear to have let the racial genie out of the bottle, without much of a plan for what to do next.
The current American strife rebounds badly on the Democrats and the current administration.
The second theory: I don’t think Trump wants to dilute his political messaging by taking on another “enemy”. Donald has been very clear about who the enemy is: it’s “radical Islam”. Trump has made radical Islam “the other”, and he doesn’t want to add “anti-cop blacks” to that list.
There are two reasons why.
First, that’s a domestic issue, and given Trump’s “America First” platform, it makes much more sense for his “other” to be a foreign element. Second, Trump wants to focus on a singular enemy.
Here’s the world’s most infamous demagogue again:
“…to achieve any success one should, on purely psychological grounds, never show the masses two or more opponents, since this leads to a total disintegration of their fighting power…the art of all truly great national leaders at all times consists among other things primarily in not dividing the attention of a people, but in concentrating it upon a single foe.”
Has Trump made a general election pivot? Yes and no. Yes, to the extent that he’s learnt something from his past 18 months in political life. I can assure you he watches his polling like a hawk. The polls have told him unequivocally he simply cannot do the same thing in the general election that he did in the primaries. Trump was never going to listen to this advice if it came from political pundits and other Republicans, but when it was reflected conclusively in the polling over five or six weeks, he got the message. From now on there’ll be many more scripted speeches on relevant policy matters and he’ll re-tweet less.
The “no” to the pivot is that he’ll continue to do large-scale rallies. Trump will speak the same way at these as he always has. Be sure there will be ample hysterical news fodder.
Be absolutely certain that the next time there is a terrorist incident that can be linked to “radical Islam”, Trump will be right back at it: punching the air and inflaming passions about the “other” and his essential “enemy” for the 2016 presidential run.