Periodically over the course of the last year or so, voters have been told to expect some changes in Donald Trump’s persona. As the presidential race entered new stages, Americans would begin to see Trump in a new light. About six weeks ago, the Associated Press went so far as to report that the Republican frontrunner “is unmistakably evolving into a general election candidate.”
But these attempts at change, while probably sincere, have been sporadic and fleeting. Every time we’re told to expect a new-and-improved Trump, the candidate seems to revert to form. To borrow a phrase, the more Trump changes, the more he stays the same.
The expectations of a possible evolution, however, continue. The New York Times reports today, for example, on the message Trump’s new top aide took to Republican National Committee members in South Florida this week.
Donald J. Trump’s newly installed campaign chief sought to assure members of the Republican National Committee on Thursday night that Mr. Trump recognized the need to reshape his persona and that his campaign would begin working with the political establishment that he has scorned to great effect.Addressing about 100 committee members at the spring meeting here, many of them deeply skeptical about Mr. Trump’s candidacy, the campaign chief, Paul Manafort, bluntly suggested the candidate’s incendiary style amounted to an act.
Arguing that a more professional phase is poised to begin, Manafort assured RNC members, “That’s what’s important for you to understand: That he gets it, and that the part he’s been playing is evolving.”
Manafort acknowledged that Trump may not seem popular now, but in the coming months, as Trump’s evolution continues, his negative ratings “are going to come down.”
If this sounds to you an awful lot like wishful thinking, you’re not alone.
There are three basic elements to keep in mind as the Trump campaign tries to shake the Etch A Sketch, and as Eric Fehrnstrom put it four years ago, “restart all over again.”
The first is that the shift is fundamentally dishonest. Trump’s new aide would have people believe he’s just playing “the part” of a divisive demagogue, but let’s be clear: no one is that good an actor. Besides, there’s evidence going back several years – long before the 2016 election cycle – that’s remarkably consistent in painting a clear picture. The Donald Trump we’ve gotten to know in recent months is, in fact, the real Donald Trump.
The second angle to keep in mind is that trying to change his persona carries some fairly important risks. Trump has thrived as a candidate, winning over much of the Republican base, by delivering a racially charged, post-policy, divisive message. He could, of course, abandon the qualities that have gotten him to this point, but there’s always the possibility of some of his fans deciding they like the pre-evolved Trump better.
But even if we put all of this aside, it’s far too late for Trump and his newly revamped campaign operation to reinvent this candidate. Every day for nearly a year, Trump has been one of the most covered and talked about public figures in the country, if not the world. His name recognition is 100% and very few Americans are undecided about how they feel about the Republican frontrunner.
There have been election cycles in which a candidate will emerge from the primary process with an opportunity to introduce himself to a general-election audience, but that’s simply not an option now – at least not with this candidate.
Americans have already been introduced to Donald Trump, and they’ve already drawn some firm conclusions based on what they’ve seen.