‘Let Trump Be Trump’? Who Else Could He Be?
Of all the political pundit-grown gobbledygook flying around this election year, wishful musings about an upcoming Donald Trump “pivot” were perhaps the most persistent. Ah, the mythical pivot — you know, that magical moment, always just around the corner, where Trump stops being The Donald and transforms into Jack Kemp, Mr. Miyagi from Karate Kid, or maybe even Fred Astaire, complete with tuxedo and tap-dancing skills.
Well, rest easy, America. “Mr. Trump,” as he likes to be called, has officially put the pivot to bed. “I am who I am,” he told a Wisconsin television station on Tuesday. “It’s me. I don’t want to change. Everyone talks about, ‘Oh, well, you’re going to pivot, you’re going to” — I don’t want to pivot. I mean, you have to be you. If you start pivoting, you’re not being honest with people.”
Here I would like to congratulate and thank Donald Trump, because he is 100 percent correct. Why would he pretend to be somebody he’s not? As a movement, Trumpism runs on Trump, not arguments over marginal tax rates. A Donald Trump chained to a restrictive teleprompter script is an unhappy Donald Trump. It’s a fabricated Trump. He’s right: It’s dishonest. It’s not real.
Despite this obvious truth, an astounding number of GOP operatives have spent the last few months begging Trump to be someone else — or, even better, to just pretend to be someone else for a little while, so that he can successfully trick America into giving him control of the most powerful military on earth. This seems like a questionable and dangerous strategy, given that a Potemkin candidate, once given power, will naturally turn back into whatever you were trying to hide from the country beforehand — but hey, details, details.
Luckily for us, Trump is having none of it. This week, the Republican presidential nominee backed his “anti-pivot” words with action, announcing a major campaign shakeup just 82 days before the arrival of No One Will Judge You for Hiding Under the Covers and Drinking Whiskey Straight From the Bottle Day. Pardon me — I mean Election Day.
Paul Manafort, Trump’s chief adviser — a no-nonsense type occasionally haunted by his questionable past dealings in Ukraine — was subtly pushed to the side. Stephen Bannon, the head honcho at Breitbart News, saddled up as the campaign’s chief executive. Kellyanne Conway, a Republican pollster, joined as the team’s new campaign manager.
Both Bannon and Conway were hired amid a slew of disastrous poll numbers. A recent Monmouth University survey showed Hillary Clinton up by nine points in Florida; a Washington Post poll gave her a 14-point lead over Trump in Virginia. A new Quinnipiac poll has Clinton with leads in Colorado and Iowa. Those are all, by the way, key swing states Republicans need to prevent the Clintons from moving back into the White House. Nationally, Clinton leads Trump by six points in the RealClearPolitics polling average.
These numbers come after weeks of “Trump being Trump,” as former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski liked to call it. But Trump’s new hires, at least at first glance, appear to recommend doubling down. They like the campaign style of the “real” Trump — unlike, reportedly, Manafort, who headed a repeatedly failing and quixotic mission to tone the candidate down.
“Trump’s stunning decision,” the Washington Post reported, “effectively ended the months-long push by campaign chairman Paul Manafort to moderate Trump’s presentation and pitch for the general election. And it sent a signal, perhaps more clearly than ever, that the real-estate magnate intends to finish this race on his own terms, with friends who share his instincts at his side.”
“Breitbart is the only place that is more Trumpian than Trump,” as Stephen Hayes noted at the Weekly Standard. Indeed, thanks to its enthusiastic Trump coverage this election season — sample headline: “How Donald Trump Made it Cool to be Gay Again” — the site has earned the nickname of “Trumpbart.” In other words, brace yourselves, campaign watchers: With the head of Breitbart on the Trump campaign, we’re about to see if that extra-large barrel can make it all the way over Niagara Falls.
Some commentators responded to the Trump shakeup with amusement; others with despair. On Sunday, before the news broke, the Wall Street Journal issued a warning for Trump’s greatest champions, including Chris Christie, Rudy Giuliani, and various talk radio hosts: “Those who sold Mr. Trump to GOP voters as the man who could defeat Hillary Clinton now face a moment of truth.”
This is true — but so do Republican-leaning voters. There should be no more squirming, or excuses, or delusions. Despite various hopes from certain corners, Trump will not stick to a script prepared for him by Newt Gingrich or Reince Priebus. Heck, he might not even try to pretend that he cares about the GOP. At the prospect of losing, in fact, he seems rather sanguine: “At the end,” he told CNBC last week, “it’s either going to work or I’m going to, you know — I’m going to have a very, very nice, long vacation.”
Trump will be Trump, and voters should be thankful for this: Finally, perhaps the usual suspects in the Republican Party will finally stop attempting to sell us an imaginary proto-Trump. Voters, meanwhile, can pay attention, do their research, and then take or leave the real version. Unlike the various machinations of the pro-Trump forces inside the GOP, it’s the honest thing to do.
Originally published at RealClear Politics August 18, 2016. Republished with permission.